U of I facing losses “in excess of $80 million” after COVID-19

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — The University of Illinois is facing losses “in excess of $80 million” due to the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Robert Jones said Wednesday.

He described the university’s “financial limitations” as a “work-in-progress,” noting that figure could increase in the fall.

“The cost could double from what we have experienced so far… Depending on whether there’s a second wave, depending on if we’re able to successfully complete fall semester,” Jones said. “…There’s still a lot of unknowns, but the cost of them is already tremendous and we’re just going to have to wait and see what plays out in the fall.”

Jones’ comments came during a webinar in which he and three other Midwest university leaders detailed their back-to-school plans for the Fall 2020 semester in the wake of COVID-19.

Like other universities — including Loyola in Chicago, Michigan State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — the U of I is bringing students back to campus, offering what it’s calling “a blend” of online and in-person instruction.

The decision came after a steering committee earlier this year led seven work teams of “15-20” people to develop a plan aimed at bringing back in-person instruction and on-campus student living; the announcement of which officially came on June 18.

“We believe that the residential experience is an absolutely critical component of the education mission of land-grant universities like Illinois,” Jones said. “We plan to offer as much in-person instruction as we possibly can.”

To attempt to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19, Jones said the UI has a goal of taking 10,000 saliva-based coronavirus tests per day at sites set up across campus.

While he emphasized the rigorous aspect of the testing — which is available for free — Jones said the “highly-sophisticated” measures don’t come without a cost. He said the tests will be linked to an app that will “be able to do the contact tracing and exposure notification that is tied to a system of (a) hospital interface so that if you are tested positive, you will then be able to get via this app the kind of intervention you need in order to treat your disease safely.”

“Because our testing is based on an app, we’ve (had to) buy cell phones and all kinds of things that are necessary in order for our testing and contact tracing to work,” he said of the expense.

Additionally, because the UI is offering online options for students who can’t or prefer not to be in classrooms, Jones said the university has had to purchase “computers or other kinds of tools that are going to be necessary to successfully navigate this academic year” for “underrepresented students” or those without access to those items normally.

Also a factor in how much the UI could stand to lose financially is whether or not fall athletics are given the green light to go ahead.

“One of the biggest issues for us is whether or not there’s going to be football in the fall and whether or not there’s going to be basketball subsequent to that,” Jones said.

A decision on the matter is pending.

And while Jones hinted that officials are eyeing the fall semester to see if it can be successfully completed, he said the coronavirus hasn’t appeared to significantly impact the university’s overall enrollment figures.

Up until yesterday, we were greatly encouraged that we were have not seen any significant declines — in particularly… we expect our undergraduate enrollment to be very, very high with domestic and non-resident U.S. students,” he said. “…We do anticipate that our undergraduate enrollment overall should be on par with last year, and may even be slightly higher: if We’re hearing from parents and from families (that they) have very strong desire to return to campus and participate in face-to-face education.”

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