Virus disrupts university finances

By Claire Crittendon, Katie Peters, Kaie Quigley & Ruth Kehinde – Co-Editors-in-Chief, Features Editor & Digital Editor

Graphic by Katie Peters.

Attending any higher education institution is an investment in both time and money, and it’s important for people to know how those two things will be spent. Tuition dollars paid by students should turn into opportunities provided by the university; that’s how Lasell approaches budgeting.

However, according to President Michael Alexander, COVID-19 has created complications for financial planning. “The pandemic has reduced revenues, increased costs and created all kinds of things that weren’t anticipated,” he said. “We’re really looking at things very short term.” Students and faculty continue to wonder about the university’s financial health and what it will look like post-COVID-19.

Despite losing millions of dollars in revenue last spring from refunding room and board due to COVID-19, cutting costs in other areas along with aid from the government helped Lasell’s operating costs outperform its
budget, according to President Alexander.

This semester tells a different story. Two areas of loss making an impact now are the reduced number of students paying for room and board and discounted tuition for online students. Additionally, with less governmental help than usual, testing and other COVID-19 safety precautions put a financial
strain on the university.

“A lot of people are anxious, especially staff and faculty are wondering what this all means for them and we can’t provide all the answers,” says Alexander. “Everybody’s do[ing] their best to try and adapt to it for
which I’m grateful.”

On March 29, the federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. According to Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer Basil A. Stewart, Lasell
received around $1.6 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF.)

Stewart said $823,971 went out to students in the form of direct deposit payments or checks, with the remaining $823,970 allocated to the institution.

“There were extra costs that we had to incur and even the signage that you see around campus associated with social distancing, take care of your neighbor, ‘wear your mask,’ and ‘keep distance’— all those things cost dollars for the institution,” said Stewart. “Those weren’t things that were planned nor seen as costs that the institution was going to ultimately have to invest in because of this pandemic.”

The Athletic Department also had to reassess its finances as a result of the pandemic. Leading into this school year, Director of Athletics Kristy Walter was asked to look at the budget and investigate what funds could
be returned to the institution. “I was instructed to do a couple different models that included no games, a few games, people on campus, [and] people not on campus,” said Walter. “In the summer, we weren’t actually
sure if we were coming back … that would have been a different budget.”

Since sports were not held in typical fashion this semester, costs were reduced for the Athletic Department, however, “that money from the fall… was basically returned,” Walter said.

Even in a non-pandemic year, the department can find itself counting pennies. “Our budget is pretty lean… it’s really based on actual costs,” said Walter. These costs consist of the needs for each team throughout the season such as paying for travel, food, officials, and other game volunteers.

Senior point guard Peyton Young from the women’s basketball team, which is no longer playing this semester due to COVID-19, said, “over the years, there has been a change in quality of gear that we have received. My first year with the team, my sophomore year, our gear was limited. The last two years we have had team stores open so that players are able to choose high quality and multiple options of gear.”

“The school has 17 teams to cater to; the money should be spent wisely and put towards things such as the facilities that all teams use,” said Young.

When it comes to budgeting for teams, each team gets $75 per roster number, according to Walter. “They have that much money to buy a sweatsuit, a bag- whatever they want to do. Anything they get above that has been fundraised or they’ve paid for.”

Young trusts women’s basketball has all the physical resources and equipment available for them to succeed, and thinks it’s important to “spend money where it’s needed.” Given that Lasell is a Division III school, Young
thinks it’s within reason for players to supply most of their own equipment.

Additional funds are allocated towards things such as updating team uniforms, which are on a rotation to be replaced every four years, and recruitment. “Each coach gets a certain amount for recruiting,” said Walter. “They get a recruiting budget to go on the road or to bring people to campus… do their recruiting
to go to tournaments and that kind of stuff.”

Walter says the department isn’t “spending money just to spend it. We’re not lining anybody’s pockets, we’re trying to provide an opportunity.” Walter also said many sets of eyes see the budget before it is finalized. “It
goes to the Budget Committee, it goes to the senior management team, it goes to the trustees. Lots of questions are asked, and you get to defend everything that you’re doing. But I think that that’s because we have the best interest of the students [in mind].”

Athletics also uses a large portion of its budget towards staff. In addition to paying coaches, the Athletic Department is also responsible for paying staff members of all the on-campus fitness centers.

Similarly to the Athletic Department’s budget, all major department’s budgets must go through the Advisory Council, the Board of Trustees, Senior Management, and President Alexander before being approved.

As feelings of fiscal uncertainty rise during this time, the university has tried to provide cost efficient options for students. One of these options is Lasell Works; a four-year program designed to assist undergraduates in their professional career. The program includes tuition reduction and an opportunity for students to work part-time while living off campus in their sophomore year while attending classes remotely. While the main goal of this program in pre-pandemic times was to offer an education to students at Lasell for less money, a subsidiary goal was freeing up rooms in resident halls.

“We had to figure out how to moderate our housing stock and ensure that we’re not minimizing and overcrowding… if we had sophomores not living in housing, we think about how much relief that would give the institution when it comes to housing,” Stewart said. “Having a group of students who were not on campus but still matriculate…but at the same time trying to find a mechanism in a product line that would also be interesting to people and attractive that they would be paying a lower price.”

In its third year running, the program is still able to provide a four-year-discount to undergraduates. With COVID-19, the housing stock wasn’t affected as it was in the past. Regardless of the pandemic, students are still
able to participate in this program.

Member of Lasell Works first-year Sydney Pesaturo thought it to be safer stepping off campus for her sophomore year experience. Pesaturo says she will be safe and follow government regulations if she is to live at home or in an apartment with friends.

“As difficult as it is to be in this kind of society and in this environment right now…we are learning some things that may be staying with us even after this pandemic is under control…one of those things is personal hygiene,” Stewart said.

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