While the COVID-19 pandemic is causing significant financial distress for many higher education institutions, Ball State University’s Board of Trustees approved a continuing spending resolution today that will prioritize funding for academic programs while investing in health and safety measures.
Using sound financial planning strategies, the University will invest substantial resources for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, modifying classrooms and facilities, increasing sanitizing and cleaning, and purchasing personal protective equipment.
Plans also call for residence halls to provide more space between students to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The University also plans to purchase other equipment to make hybrid and online instruction even more accessible for students.
“Because of our long history of fiscal prudence and financial stability, as well as resources we received from the federal CARES Act, we have the capacity to make substantial investments to make our campus safe,” President Geoffrey S. Mearns said. “At the same time, we remain committed to providing our students with the distinctive, high-impact learning opportunities that will ensure their academic and professional success.”
President Mearns also explained that the University’s operating budget was not negatively impacted in the Spring because faculty and staff quickly mobilized to transition Spring semester courses to remote learning.
Other steps the University took to reduce costs when the pandemic struck included not filling most vacant nonstrategic positions and reducing other nonessential expenditures.
Staffing many of the Summer courses more efficiently produced more net revenue than budgeted, President Mearns said.
The University is also eligible to receive $7.6 million for institutional support through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It intends to use those resources to partially reimburse the housing and dining budgets for the credits and refunds issued to students when campus housing closed in March.
Based on room and board rates approved by the Board in December 2019, the University will adjust housing contracts so that students will be billed only for 13 weeks instead of 16, to be consistent with the updated academic calendar. The adjusted academic calendar is intended to mitigate a potential wave of COVID-19 cases that may occur in late Fall/early Winter.
The Board also approved a proposal to reduce personnel expenses by expanding the University’s existing phased retirement plan to include eligible professional personnel and staff employees. The expanded plan will provide professional personnel and staff with the same opportunity to reduce their service that is now available to full-time faculty.
Board Chair Renae Conley said the Board recognizes the University’s efforts to control and reduce expenditures.
“We appreciate the leadership of President Mearns, the cabinet and the deans during this challenging period, and are confident the facility and staff will continue to deliver a quality student experience in a safe environment as students return to school in August.”
Under the resolution, the Board directed the University to anticipate and prepare for a more austere fiscal year 2021 budget, and possibly for future years, by developing several reduction scenarios based on revenue and state funding.
Issues to address include a 7% reduction in state funding for fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020-June 30, 2021), which is about $10 million to Ball State. Summer enrollment was sustained at the level as estimated, and enrollment projections for Fall 2020 are stable.
“The approach to the budget that leadership has proposed allows us to balance our need for strategic investments, such as COVID-19 preparation and academic programs, with expense reductions,” said Board Chair Conley, who noted the Board will review the budget for next fiscal year at its September meeting.
In other business, Vice President for Student Affairs Ro-Anne Royer Engle led a presentation that reviewed how the community policing approach employed by the University Police Department (UPD) has yielded positive relationships and goodwill between officers and the campus community.
Vice President Royer Engle said the University supports the efforts of other local law enforcement agencies by providing the same diversity, equity, and inclusion training UPD officers receive, noting that “Effective community policing, a partnership between police and members of the community, is not just a philosophy or approach to building trust. It is the expectation and standard for our public safety officers. This approach is informed by the diversity reflected on our campus and our University’s commitment to inclusive excellence.”
In other business, the Board approved membership in the newly created Esports Collegiate Conference (ESC), joining 12 members of the Mid-American Conference (MAC) for the 2020-21 season. ESC is an independent entity and will operate separately from the MAC.
As part of league membership, Ball State is developing a varsity-level esports team, which will be operated under the direction of the College of Communication, Information, and Media (CCIM).
The new varsity-level team will enhance academic offerings by bringing esports experiences into curricula across multiple disciplines, including digital sports production, business, computer science, animation, and sport administration, said CCIM Dean Paaige Turner.