Screenshot of Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing

Screenshot of Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing

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URBANA — The University of Illinois’ Urbana campus is expecting a $251.9 million financial impact from COVID-19.

While the relief bill signed last month provides some funding for higher education, Paul Ellinger, associate chancellor and vice provost for budget and resource planning, said more than two-thirds of the costs and lost revenue will be covered internally.

“The first two (relief bills) gave us approximately 16 percent of the $251 million,” he said at a virtual COVID-19 briefing.

With the new bill, “we haven’t received final word on the amount that we’re going to receive or some of the parameters, but our expectation is that we would be able to supplement another 15 percent.”

Of the $251.9 million, 18 percent has been spent on the UI’s saliva-testing program and 10 percent has been spent on virus-related personal protective equipment, building renovations and computer software and hardware.

Another 15 percent came from fee adjustments and housing refunds last spring when the UI moved online, and 21 percent came from lost housing, dining, concessions and catering revenue.

The $251.9 million total doesn’t include any efforts to reduce spending or create new revenue, Ellinger said.

To mitigate the financial impact, Ellinger said 326 people retired early as part of the voluntary program.

Travel expenses were also reduced by $11 million, hiring has slowed and utility costs are expected to drop by 5 percent in fiscal 2021.

The UI also delayed $23 million in strategic planning investments, postponed $32 million in capital projects and made $34 million in budget reductions and rescissions for units.

The UI has also generated $11 million in new revenue — for example, tuition from the online learning platform Coursera.

Ellinger said the UI’s finances remain vulnerable to the general state of the economy, the state’s finances and its reliance on international students.

“We’re fortunate that we’re such an attractive destination for international students, but we’ve become vulnerable during these times of limited travel and visa delays,” he said.

“More than 25 percent of our undergraduate (tuition) and almost 50 percent of our graduate tuition is from international students.”

Despite the challenges, Ellinger said, “our research enterprise is thriving this year.”

“The pandemic has not impacted the ability for researchers to get grants,” he said.

Ellinger also said the UI had the benefit of learning from past financial challenges — notably the 2008 recession and the 2016 state budget impasse.

Since “we always have prioritized stability and viability, we put ourselves in a strong position for the next crisis,” he said. “These events have really encouraged us to to strengthen our budgeting system and our data system and our reporting system.”

Chancellor Robert Jones reiterated that he doesn’t expect layoffs or furloughs, as he’s said since the pandemic started.

“We have no plans at this juncture to implement any of those strategies,” he said. “As I said then, it will be a last resort. So financially, as you’ve seen from Paul, things are looking much better than we had anticipated, so we have no plans about any furloughs or layoffs or salary freezes or cuts.”

President Tim Killeen has said he’d like to implement a salary program, or increase, this year, but that it could depend on state funding.

“I’m optimistic that we will be able to have a salary program,” Killeen said Tuesday at the University Senates Conference meeting. “I think it’s really important after a year where there was no salary program that we returned to some kind of normalcy. And obviously it does need to be funded, and these are funds that typically do come from the state.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed keeping funding for higher education flat in the fiscal 2022 budget.

While the UI is seeking an 8.3 percent increase in state funding, Killeen said he was a bit worried it would end up down and was pleased with the governor’s proposal.

“We did actually breathe a bit of a sigh of relief,” he said.

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