Laurie Melchionne, Editor-in-Chief
History was made this fiscal year when Stockton received $32.7 million in annual state appropriation. This is the highest level of funding the university has received from New Jersey in its 50-year existence.
“This is a 78% increase compared to the 2017 appropriation,” said Jennifer Potter, Chief Financial Officer and Vice President of Administration and Finance. “This phenomenal growth in support from the state can be largely attributed to President Kesselman.”
In the five years that Potter has been in the finance department, she has witnessed Stockton’s growth despite traditionally receiving the lowest end of state appropriation in comparison to other New Jersey colleges and universities. For years, Stockton’s state appropriation was typically $18.4 million.
This relatively low number saw a dip in 2020 due to the pandemic when Stockton’s appropriation decreased to $17.5 million. While declining enrollment in fall 2021 and spring 2022 resulted in lost revenue, the University also received increased State support ($24.2M in FY2021 and $32.7M in FY2022) and federal and State COVID relief funding enhancing Potter’s
confidence in the future of the university’s finances.
“We’ve weathered the COVID storm and we are navigating our new normal,” said Potter. “In our most recent budget update in February to the Board of Trustees, I am happy to say that we are on track to break even for the Fiscal Year 2022.”
What does this mean for Stockton in the post-pandemic world? It means that we have enough revenue to cover our expenses, and departments will not have to worry about budget cuts or spending restrictions. If revenue decreases (due to declining enrollment, lacking state appropriation or grants, etc), then measures may be taken to reduce expenditures. Potter and her team constantly monitor the budget to highlight areas where there are room for cuts, and areas where there is not.
“Although we have not done it historically [spending restrictions and budget cuts], we went about it strategically at the peak of the pandemic, ” said Potter. “Student Affairs was one of those areas that we could not cut because we have to support our students. Something else we could not cut was maintenance costs, for example, because we have to keep the lights on.”
In Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, the total COVID-related impact on the university exceeded $34 million, which is attributed to lost revenue and COVID-related health and safety expenses. In 2020, Stockton lost $6.9 million in state appropriation. The university also lost $8.1 million in housing, meal plans, and transportation and safety fees in the form of student refunds. “This was something we absolutely had to do because students were not present on campus,” Potter said.
Expenses for COVID, such as providing personal protective equipment and expanded maintenance and cleaning services, as well as sending students and staff laptops and printing capabilities while working from home, totaled approximately $5.0 million in 2020 and 2021.
However, $40 million in federal and state-level relief funding, as well as upcoming enrollment expectations, quickly made much of the COVID-related spending restrictions a thing of the past.
While enrollment leveled out in the Fall of 2020, it was in 2021 and 2022 when numbers took a hit.
“We had a decline in headcount of 5%,” said Potter, “and a decline in FTE [full-time equivalent] students of 7%.”
Spring of 2022 saw an 8% drop in headcount and a 9% drop in FTE.
Despite these numbers, the amount of applications for prospective students for Summer 2022 has soared.
According to Potter, “The best summer Stockton ever had was summer 2021 and we are on track for similar summer enrollments in 2022.”
But the real upcoming focal point is Fall 2022. To predict an accurate enrollment forecast, Potter has to wait until the May 1 deadline for incoming students to submit their applications. Still, the predictions are bright.
“Currently, we have a significant increase in applications for Fall 2022,” said Potter.
The higher the enrollment numbers, the higher the revenue. Despite that, tuition has increased by 2% annually.
“We are committed to providing students a high-quality and affordable education,” added Potter, who clarified that until enrollment numbers are secured for Fall 2022, it is difficult to predict how tuition and fees will be affected in the post-COVID Fiscal Year 2023. “The State of New Jersey budget is not finalized until the end of June, which is why the tuition and fee increase is not approved until the June Executive Committee of the Board.”
Once the state budget and fall enrollment are finalized, the Finance team will be able to make a more accurate prediction for the future of finances by the end of June. However, with the high number of applications, things are looking better than they had during the pandemic.
In the meantime, student feedback will play a crucial role in decisions regarding tuition and fees going forward.
Stockton is required by the state to hold a tuition and fee hearing, which allows the Board of Trustees to gather feedback from the community regarding questions and concerns about costs. Every year, this hearing is held at the May open session of the board, a date that is usually tough for students to attend since many are done with finals and are heading home for the
summer at that point.
Potter announced, “This year we will solicit student feedback in April via a Qualtrics survey. All students have to do is log in and send their concerns about tuition, fees, and any increase. We are hoping that the electronic submission platform will make it easier for students.”
At the end of the day, Potter explained, everyone from administration to faculty and staff is here for the students, so their feedback regarding the cost of a college education is extremely important.