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WVU Parkersburg board approves budget

College President Chris Gilmer reflects on pandemic changes

West Virginia University at Parkersburg President Chris Gilmer speaks Wednesday at the first in-person meeting of the college’s Board of Governors in over a year. The board passed an over $21.4 million budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The West Virginia University at Parkersburg Board of Governors approved its over $21.4 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year as enrollment remains strong.

The board returned Wednesday with its first in-person meeting in over a year in the college’s activity center as WVU-P President Chris Gilmer told the board and other officials about the trend of things appearing to be returning more to normal, but keeping in mind that the effects of the pandemic will continue to last for awhile.

In commemorating his three-year anniversary as the college president, Gilmer said WVU-P is getting prepared “to begin a new chapter, not quite post-COVID-19, but with the pandemic seeming to allow a new normal.”

He talked about how the pandemic challenged the university, faculty, staff and students, and how everyone rose to the challenge to face it.

“We accomplished a lot before it hit,” Gilmer said. “We will accomplish even more after it subsides.

“We even accomplished a lot while it has been raging around us, if simply by enduring as a strong familial community … I will reflect on the pandemic as the defining moment to which I was called to do my best, all day, every day, to keep you safe.”

The board approved the university’s $21,404,225 budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The amount includes an over $19 million operations budget and a grant budget of over $1.5 million as well as carryover from the previous year.

“It occurred to me that we are approaching our second fiscal year since the beginning of the COVID era,” said Alice Harris, Executive Vice President of Finance & Administration. “Nothing is the same as it was before in March 2020.”

The cost to operate the university has shifted from facility operations and classroom supplies to investments to deliver online classes as well as educators to be able to conduct those classes and in cleaning supplies to sanitize their buildings and offices, she said.

“Despite everything that has changed, the university is financially strong and well positioned to be able to return to normal operations,” Harris said.

Through everything the university was able to complete a number of capital projects, including the renovation of the library, replacement of windows and doors adjacent to the courtyard, the creation of a recording studio, office renovations and more.

“We are still looking forward to a time when students will be coming back and making sure we have a welcoming facility,” Harris said.

Harris estimates the college will have a cash surplus of $600,000 by the end of the fiscal year which she attributes to some COVID federal relief funds, but also their careful and conservative spending habits.

The grant budget includes the grants they know they are receiving. Other money may come in from other grants and the budget would be adjusted accordingly. Other possible COVID relief funds might be coming, but those will not be figured in until received by the university.

Harris said they are seeing a 7 percent decrease in tuition and fees, but the university already has COVID relief funds in hand from allocations already made that should make up for that.

Gilmer said the university has good indications for growing enrollment in the fall.

The three primary enrollment indicators for fall 2021 are all trending positively, he said, adding everyone needs to remain cautious as they change on a daily basis.

“We must remain vigilant to close the ground we still need to close between now and the beginning of the semester,” he said. “As of Friday, June 4, day-to-day comparisons between this enrollment cycle and the 2021 fall enrollment cycle showed a 23 percent increase in Early College, a 10 percent increase in new students, and a 3 percent increase in continuing students for an overall full-time equivalent enrollment increase of 3 percent.”

He hopes they will have strong enrollments in the fall as more face-to-face classes are planning to resume. Many students wait until late summer before they enroll for fall classes. The board already approved a measure that will see no tuition increase for the coming fiscal year.

“We built the budget for the upcoming fiscal year conservatively because colleges nationwide are still expecting significant negative enrollment and retention impacts caused by COVID-19,” Gilmer said. “We hope to buck that trend at WVU-P.”

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com

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