UConn to Provide Refunds for Unused Housing and Dining Plans

Wilbur Cross building on a fall day in October. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)
UConn will provide refunds for unused dining and housing plans. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

UConn students will receive pro-rated refunds for housing, dining plans, and Study Abroad programs that were discontinued due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced the university to send students home and offer academics and other services remotely.

The Board of Trustees on Wednesday gave administrators the authority to make the reimbursements, which will represent several thousand dollars for many on-campus residential students who also had dining plans. The payments will be credited on the fall semester’s fee bills, and that those who graduate or do not return to UConn for other reasons would receive refunds.

“It certainly is consistent with our values and will be well received,” President Thomas C. Katsouleas said Wednesday.

The refunds are estimated to cost about $30 million and will represent the pro-rated amounts for the time when students no longer could use their university housing and dining plans, or approximately seven weeks dating from March 23 forward. For those whose housing and dining were covered in part or full by financial aid, the money would return to the financial aid and scholarship accounts for their future use.

The room and board refunds will range from about $1,600 to almost $3,200 for Storrs students, depending on which style of on-campus housing they had; and between about $1,200 and $1,400 for dining plans. Students who lived in Stamford residence halls will be refunded about $2,800 to $3,100.

UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Dan Toscano said although the university faces many unexpected short and long term financial issues related to the pandemic, it wanted to be able to address the reimbursement issue now.

“We hope very loudly that there will be federal and state assistance with this, but we couldn’t afford to wait to find out,” he said. “It is not (a matter) we take lightly, but it is for sure the right decision to make for our students at this time.”

In addition to the housing and dining reimbursements, UConn students who participated in Education Abroad will receive refunds based on the nature of their program.

The decision to authorize refunds was part of a wide-ranging discussion Wednesday in which trustees learned more about the unprecedented financial and operational challenges that UConn faces in responding to the global pandemic.

The current fiscal impact is estimated at nearly $134 million for the current semester for UConn Storrs, the regional campuses and UConn Health.

That number does not include anticipated revenue losses in the upcoming 2020-21 academic year, which are expected to range from $18 million to $70 million as a result of restricted international enrollment.

It could depend significantly on whether UConn loses only potential international freshmen, or also if current international students in upper levels who had returned to their homes elsewhere cannot or do not return for the next academic year.

At UConn Storrs and the regional campuses, the refunds represent about $32 million in expenses, combined with a loss of about $6.7 million in other revenue from canceled events such as athletics matchups, conferences, and performing arts presentations. In addition, UConn expects to have at least $400,000 in additional costs directly related to coronavirus preparation and response.

At UConn Health, at least $2.4 million in new costs are expected related to its coronavirus response, coupled with an estimated loss of $101 million in elective surgeries that had to be postponed so the medical enterprise can focus on serving the state and its residents during the pandemic.

All of those figures are estimates based on the best available information now, but could change based on any unanticipated impacts in the short or long term depending on the length and severity of the pandemic.

UConn is taking wide-ranging, unprecedented measures to continue operations while protecting health and safety by complying with directives to limit crowd sizes and other circumstances in which the virus can spread.

Many of the university’s functions have moved to online events, including spring academic courses and the virtual town hall gatherings that President Katsouleas convened on March 18 and March 12. Other meetings are being conducted by telephone, as was Wednesday’s trustees meeting.

The university already had a strong online presence, with about 550 courses that are delivered partially or fully online available before the pandemic forced the full-scale move to virtual academics. In fact, UConn had already been adding 75 to 90 online offerings yearly, so many students had experience with remote learning before Monday’s full transition.

“It’s been a difficult time, but as a parent of a student who’s sitting upstairs in his room taking a midterm exam in one of his UConn finance classes as we speak, I can tell you the transition has been quite a success,” Toscano said during Wednesday’s phone meeting.

“Number one, the ability for our students, faculty and staff to be safe is paramount; and also number two, that we’ve continued to keep the learning process active and do not lose this semester,” he said.

Most UConn employees are telecommuting, and students were sent home from residence halls, although exceptions were granted for international students, those who have family members who are immunocompromised, and others with specific circumstances.

All UConn Athletics games, practices and other activities are canceled, as are alumni events, conferences, and events for admitted students. In a decision that the university found particularly difficult, Commencement ceremonies will not be held in May as originally scheduled, although other options are being considered for later in the year.

About 1,200 students were allowed exceptions to remain in their Storrs residence halls based on issues such as living in other countries, having family members at home with compromised immunity, and other circumstances.

The Recreation Center, Student Union and other spots where people would normally congregate at Storrs are closed due to the need to reduce crowd sizes and limit the potential spread of the virus. However, students still on campus can get grab-and-go meals from the dining halls.

“I’m very pleased that the way the students are responding to this threat is thoughtfully, respectfully and with maturity,” Katsouleas said. “They come down to the dining halls and get their food, they don’t loiter, and they take their food back with them or eat at a distance from their peers. They’re taking it very seriously and become of that we are, knock on wood, where we hoped to be in terms of health and safety.”

Katsouleas has also reached out to members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, asking them to support efforts in Washington, D.C., to provide emergency funding for college students and higher education institutions, as well as support for front-line health personnel and providers, which would assist UConn Health’s clinical operations.

Katsouleas outlined the impact of increased expenses and revenue loss in letters to the U.S. senators and representatives, saying the unanticipated costs “threaten the core financial stability of the university.”

“Without federal assistance, UConn does not have other means to recoup these losses,” Katsouleas wrote. “Raising tuition and fees to the level needed would be untenable for our students and their families, and state support of this magnitude may simply not be possible. With a relatively small and restricted (by donor agreements) endowment, the University has nowhere else to turn.”