Community Update Regarding College Finances and Coronavirus Emergency (4/13/20)

Dear Pomona College Community,

The past few weeks have brought disruption and many challenges for our community and people around the globe, and we are grateful for the countless ways Sagehens have pulled together, supported one another and pushed forward in the face of difficulties.

As we pass through these initial weeks of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we are writing to discuss some of the financial aspects of this ongoing emergency, and the steps underway to support our students, faculty and staff as we carry forward our academic mission.

In this crisis, our priorities are to support our people and our mission. We see these as intertwined; it is our community of talented and committed individuals who together create the college’s vital scholarship, a form of deep intellectual engagement that is more necessary than ever with the world facing such pressing challenges.

Financial steps of support the College has taken so far include refunding students for the unused portion of their room and board charges for the semester, and meeting requests students made for financial support as they transitioned off-campus. In addition, we are committed to paying student workers through the end of the semester regardless of whether they can work remotely or not.

The College also continues to pay all staff and faculty, including part-time employees, and has suspended the use of sick leave during this emergency period so that no one is financially disadvantaged.

So far, we estimate the near-terms costs of our pandemic response to be between $6 and $7 million. The largest share of that consists of refunded room and board for students who moved off campus. The estimate also includes:

  • $200,000 to assist students with travel
  • $160,000 to help students with moving and transition costs
  • $230,000 for technology such as laptops, hotspots, Zoom licenses and other needs
  • $130,000 in facilities expenses

This is a beginning – costs are certain to grow, and we will need to make tough choices to maintain our top priorities.

In the immediate period, every department should be looking for ways to hold down non-salary expenses in the final months of this fiscal year as we need to focus on only those purchases that are truly crucial to our mission. We also need to focus our recruitment across the College only on key hires, while pausing on the rest until we have a more complete picture of what our campus, our region and our society will be like in the summer and fall; HR will be engaging with departments and offices on hiring plans to focus on the highest recruitment priorities.

In this same vein, at this moment of uncertainty and unprecedented national and global efforts to halt the pandemic, we are holding off for now on the start of construction for major capital projects such as the new athletics and recreation center. We will take up this issue in more detail at the May Board of Trustees meeting as we get a clearer picture of progress both in slowing the spread of the virus and in efforts to contain the economic impact of the crisis.

Pausing our previous plans to start construction immediately when the semester ends provides the College with an additional financial cushion and more time to evaluate the situation. (And with the demands of physical distancing and other public health requirements, shifting athletics and recreation activities to various interim facilities could pose additional challenges.)

Higher education institutions around the country have started making painful cuts in response to the crisis. Depending on how this global emergency evolves, we too may face very difficult choices in the coming weeks and months. We are planning for different contingencies as we track public health guidance, and any steps that we do take will be carefully calibrated to the evolving situation. Our commitment is to treat every member of our community with compassion and dignity as we advance our essential academic mission in a time of great strain for people worldwide.

Right now, there are many unknowns regarding when the pandemic will end and when everyday life can return to normal, or something close to it. We will continue to keep the community informed, and we will be holding open forums via Zoom in coming weeks for our community to ask questions and learn more about the College’s financial response to this crisis.

Pomona has pulled through many crises in the past, from the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic to World War II to the 2008-09 financial crisis. We have done so by coming together as a community time and again, and through decades of thoughtful financial planning that have grown the College’s endowment into a powerful vehicle for academic equity.

Good stewardship of that endowment year after year allows the College to provide need-blind admissions and need-based financial aid – our enduring commitments to opportunity. Careful, long-term decisions enable us to keep doing so for future generations of students and carry forward the promise of Pomona.

We appreciate the caring, spirit of innovation and commitment to our highest ideals seen throughout our community in this crisis. We will continue to engage in new ways and keep you informed during this time when we must remain physically apart, but still deeply connected as Sagehens.

Sincerely,

G. Gabrielle Starr, president
Seth Allen, vice president for strategy & dean of admissions and financial aid
Christina Ciambriello, chief of staff and secretary to the Board of Trustees
Robert Gaines, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college
Robert Goldberg, vice president, COO and treasurer
Avis Hinkson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students
Mark Kendall, assistant vice president for communications & strategic content
William Morse, vice president and chief information officer
Maria Watson, vice president for advancement