COVID costs high, but not detrimental to the university

Financial strength and pandemic-related savings will mitigate this year’s COVID expenses

Grace Mamon

By the end of the school year, Washington and Lee will have spent about $5 million on COVID-19-related expenses, said University Treasurer Steve McAllister.

Testing alone represents nearly $3 million of the total.

“Certainly, there has been a cost to coming back this year and having students on campus,” McAllister said. “The biggest of those costs is the testing program.”

The school is spending about $200,000 per week on testing, McAllister said. Between 2,300 and 2,600 members of the university community get tested every week, at about $85 a test.

This is an increase from the fall term, when about 600 people were getting tested every week, at about $95 a test.

McAllister said there is also a loss in revenue because major events like parent’s weekend, young alumni weekend and reunions cannot happen on campus.

“We’ve seen impacts in both dining and in our university store” from not allowing visitors on campus, he said.

The school has also spent money renovating the HVAC systems on campus, reconfiguring spaces to accommodate social distancing and providing personal protective equipment. Each student was provided with a pack of KN95 masks at the beginning of winter semester. 

“We probably spent $450,000 in projects to have campus ready,” McAllister said.

Paul Youngman, chair of the COVID-19 Committee, said safety comes before cost. 

“We literally never weigh it. It’s only safety,” he said. 

McAllister has never denied any COVID-19 Committee requests to improve safety on campus, Youngman said. 

“And we know the things we’re asking are very expensive,” Youngman said. 

But \the university has enough money to handle the financial strain of the pandemic.

Washington and Lee’s endowment, composed of over 1,400 individual funds, is around $1.8 billion. Earnings from endowments support student financial aid, faculty salaries and general operations of the university.

“There’s a lot of financial strength at the university,” McAllister said. 

There have also been no employee layoffs since the beginning of the pandemic. Even when students were sent home in March, McAllister said it was a priority that employees keep their jobs.

The school has also seen some savings. There are few travel or entertainment expenses this year, which has helped offset the COVID costs, McAllister said. 

Costs would be much lower if students weren’t back on campus, but Youngman said it’s worth it. 

“It’s our mission,” he said. “I am in the classroom face-to-face this semester and it just feels right to me. I think it is for the students, too. There’s something really energizing about that face to face interaction.”

In the long run, the pandemic probably won’t have lasting detrimental effects on the financial health of the university. 

“We feel we are in a position where we can weather the COVID crisis and frankly not have to make changes in budgets and programs,” McAllister said.