Taking Stock — COVID’s Financial Impact, and the AY 2021-22 Budget
Date: June 4, 2021
To: The NYU Community
From: Katherine Fleming, Provost
Martin Dorph, Exec. Vice President
As we move towards the end of the most unusual period in NYU’s modern history, we want to share how COVID has affected the University’s finances in the current academic year and what we anticipate for 2021-22.
Academic Year 2020-21
Every year, our budgeting objective is the same: to direct the maximum resources we can toward fulfilling our educational and research mission.
In addition to its many other challenges — health and safety, teaching and learning, research, operational — the current year presented unprecedented financial challenges. While enrollment remained strong, the University had to absorb losses particularly in the area of student housing and dining due to fewer students living and eating on campus, while the related fixed costs were still incurred. We also had new costs associated with COVID-19, including testing (which has cost over $1 million/week); PPE, the installation of barriers, enhanced cleaning, antiseptic supplies; technology investments to permit remote learning; quarantine space and dining, rental of spaces to provide additional study areas, the lease of a hotel for a semester to accommodate decreased density in our residence halls, and infrastructure and instructional resources for the GoLocal program, among other expenditures.
Altogether, the losses and new costs amounted to a deviation from the anticipated, pre-COVID budget for 2020-21 of approximately $300 million.
Even as we sought to mitigate those losses, we continued to be guided by the priorities of fulfilling our academic mission, providing additional aid to students (which was significantly aided by the availability of federal funds), and avoiding, if possible, the kind of harsh steps which would damage the morale and wellbeing of our faculty and employees. In these, we were successful:
- Enrollment, as noted, was strong, and with the flexibility we built in and the resilience students and faculty demonstrated, students were able to successfully pursue their degrees.
- NYU is on track for a strong year in research.
- Using a mix of donated funds, internal funds, and federal funds, we’ve committed an additional $64 million this year in direct financial aid and COVID-19 grants to students.
- We sidestepped the kind of actions many peer institutions had to take: we did not implement a suspension of retirement contributions, or a University-wide program of furloughs or lay-offs. Nor did we reduce salaries.
Instead, we were largely able to offset the COVID-related losses and costs in 2020-21 through three principal mechanisms: large cutbacks in other-than-personal-services (OTPS) spending; strict controls on hiring, including an all-but-complete freeze on administrative hires; and foregoing the annual merit increase (AMI).
Summer 2021 registration has been strong. However, the positive financial impact of summer teaching and learning are offset by both continued low occupancy in the residence halls and the effects of the flexibility we accorded students in choosing which semesters to study in 2020-21.
Academic Year 2021-22
NYU — indeed, all of higher education — is not out of the woods yet; nevertheless, there are optimistic signs that bode well for our University.
With respect to COVID-19, the expanded availability of vaccines — which seemed so distant when we wrote about NYU’s finances in April 2020 — and the declining case positivity rates at both NYU and in NYC are hopeful omens. With students vaccinated before their return next fall, our housing and dining programs should resume some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy, as will most of the educational program.
We had an exceptionally strong year for enrollment — more than 100,000 applications for undergraduate admission; our most diverse, selective, and academically accomplished entering class; and unprecedented yield numbers. We saw increases in applications to our graduate and professional programs, too. And our research enterprise, as noted, continues to thrive.
All of these developments help set the stage for a much more fulsome return to campus — but one in which decision-making will very much continue to be guided primarily by the health and safety of the NYU community — in fall 2021. This return includes a restart of in-person instruction as our core form of pedagogy, what we anticipate will be close to full occupancy of our student residences, and the resumption of campus-based administrative operations.
Many in our community are excited about a return to campus; others are anxious, and that’s understandable against the backdrop of ongoing (if declining) COVID-19 transmission, upticks in crime, and the reports of racial, ethnic, and religious violence and harassment directed at members of our community and other New Yorkers. Moreover, the pandemic and its aftermath have had significant disruptive impacts on personal lives, often in inequitable ways. As members of our community transition from telework or hybrid learning back to the classroom, laboratory, or office, we are committed to recognizing and responding to their concerns by using the summer as a time to gradually increase the density of the campus and address concerns as they arise, continuing to emphasize the importance of work-life balance, considering the measured use of remote work for some administrative functions, and reexamining our caregiver programs. We will continue to listen to all of you as we progress in this effort.
The pandemic’s effects have diminished locally and in other parts of the US; however, the international picture is cloudier. It is uncertain what hurdles our international students may yet face in getting to New York. The State Department’s announcement of their plan to exempt students from many nations from international travel restrictions was welcome news; still, there is a very considerable backlog in visa processing, and time is short. We will still need to provide vaccinations and testing, and accompanying quarantine protocols for those returning to campus without having received an approved vaccination.
The proposed expense operating budget for 2021-22 (for all parts of the University other than NYU Langone Health) is $3.8 billion, with a capital spending plan — for major multi-year investments in new facilities, technologies, and equipment — of about $650 million.
We will continue to limit both OTPS spending and hiring; not as significantly as last year, but nevertheless with a cautious outlook for the pandemic’s unpredictability and the expected COVID-related expenses that will continue into FY22. “Restraint” will continue to be the watchword, alongside a continued focus on safety and on NYU’s academic mission. However, there will be compensation increases for 2021-22.
We are recommending to the Board of Trustees as part of 2021-22 budget the inclusion of 3% salary increase pools for faculty, administrators, professional researchers, and non-union, non-exempt clerical and service staff not covered by collective bargaining agreements. The recommended salary increases will come in two components: a 2.0% “2021 Covid-19 Salary Adjustment” increase, and a 1.0% merit increase pool to be fully distributed based on individual merit. While this year's increases are the same for all categories of non-union employees, it should not be assumed that this will be the case in future years.
In addition, as in the past, there is a 0.5% bonus pool for administrators, professional researchers, and non-union, non-exempt clerical and service staff not covered by collective bargaining agreement to reward outstanding efforts and especially meritorious service, with special recognition for those who provided exemplary service and took on additional roles due to the pandemic.
Affordability has been an NYU priority since 2016, and in the years since, NYU has fallen dozens of places on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of colleges by cost. We are maintaining the same restrained track that has marked the last few years: for 2021-22, the overall increase in undergraduate cost-of-attendance will be 2.8%. This reflects an increase in tuition and fees of 2.95%, and an increase in room and board of 2.3% for most entering freshmen.
Financial Aid / Scholarship Aid / Institutional Grant Aid
The undergraduate scholarship aid budget — which currently is $513 million — will increase by 10% — or to $565 million — for 2021-22.
Fundraising in 2020 continued to be strong, up 12% over FY2019, and the current fiscal year is on pace to exceed last year.
A little over a year ago, we had to unexpectedly pivot to remote learning and close our residence halls to most students. Approximately nine months ago, we returned to campus, but to a very different campus life. Now we are on the cusp not only of many more of us returning to our New York campus but also of resuming many of the familiar habits and rhythms of university life that we were compelled to set aside for these past months.
None of this would have been remotely possible without determination, resiliency, hope and trust in one another. As we gradually, carefully make our way back to a campus that some of us have not seen in person for more than a year, we want you to know that you are needed here, by NYU, the Village, and the City; that we will be working to make the transition back as comfortable and safe as we can; and that we are grateful for all you have done and continue to do.
We are looking forward so much to being with all of you.