Less spending, investment loss: Quinnipiac’s financial standing when COVID-19 began

Former administrator weighs in on higher education economy after pandemic

Chatwan Mongkol, News Editor

An independent audit report from national accounting and advisory services firm Marcum LLP revealed Quinnipiac University’s financial standing in the 2019 fiscal year, which was from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020.

The university spent a total of $309 million in operating expenses, including expenses on academic supports, research, student services, residential life and health services. It was a 7.43% decrease in spending from the previous fiscal year, which was $334 million.

Morgan Tencza

Marguerite Dennis, an educational consultant with over 40 years of higher education administrative experience, said pandemics are disruptive and produce long-lasting change to the world’s economy by their nature. She said the higher education sector also could not escape the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic in the past 14 months.

“For many colleges and universities, it was no longer possible to generate revenue from residence halls filled to capacity, with both domestic and international students, or from robust athletic events,” Dennis said. “Most admission recruiters and fundraisers were unable to travel to meet personally with potential students or donors.”

There were two spending areas at Quinnipiac that saw a significant decline in the 2019 fiscal year compared to the previous year, as indicated in the report. Supplies and services-related expenditures totaled $56.9 million in 2019, a 22.15% decrease. Travel and events-related expenditures totaled $9.7 million in 2019, which was 30% less than the 2018 fiscal year.

Compensation and benefit-related expenses totaled $187 million, which decreased by 1.21% from the previous year.

The total amount already included 3-5% faculty and staff pay cuts during April to June 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. President Judy Olian also took a 20% salary reduction, and members of the Management Committee and Leadership Council took 5-10% cuts.

While the report did not state the specific amount of salaries distributed to each employee during the fiscal year, the salaries for the 10 highest-compensated staff can be found in the university’s 990 tax filing, which is set to be released two years after the form was filed. The 2019 form has not yet been released.

Dennis explained that while different colleges and universities responded differently when it comes to expenses cuts, she said for most schools, workloads for full-time faculty increased, admissions and recruitment activities were scaled back, attendance at conferences was canceled and alumni and fundraising events were curtailed.

As of June 2020, Quinnipiac had $64.3 million in financial assets including $13.7 million cash in hand, $11.6 million in any amount of money its customers owed for purchases made on credit and $39 million in investments not subject to donor restrictions or Board of Trustees designations.

The report indicated that the university was able to generate “positive cash” from its operation in the fiscal year.

“In addition to financial assets available to meet general expenditures over the next 12 months, the university operates with a balanced budget and anticipates collecting sufficient revenue to cover general expenditures not covered by donor-restricted resources,” the report stated.

In terms of the university’s investment, it held $587 million worth of stocks, fixed income securities, money market funds, mutual funds, private equity funds and alternative investments. However, the 2019 fiscal year ended with a $7.3 million loss, while Quinnipiac gained $17.7 million from investments in 2018.

According to the report, the university began the year with $42 million in alternative and private equity investments and ended the year with only $22.9 million. The decrease was from both loss and sales.

Quinnipiac began the fiscal year on July 1, 2019 with $551 million in endowment and ended the year with $539 million, a 2.2% decrease. It spent around $19.1 million of the fund.

As of March 2021, university’s administrators confirmed that the endowment at the time was worth approximately $700 million. President Judy Olian said the increase, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, was because of the return of the stock market. She said the university has been spending 4-5% of its endowment in the past two years, and that it is planning to use close to $50 million over the next two years

Looking forward to the post-COVID-19 world, Dennis said change will not come to higher education until and unless chief executives, deans and chief financial officers rethink the process.

“Vision plans should replace strategic plans,” Dennis said. “Vision plans outline why a school does what it does. Strategic plans offer the roadmap to achieve the vision.”

Dennis also explained that the university’s executives should reimagine what they do and why they do it, while trying to differentiate their services from all competitors.

“Everyone at the college or university should be able to answer why a student should enroll at their school,” Dennis said. “The educational commitment to graduates should extend beyond graduation.”

In terms of changes to the higher education economy in the coming months, Dennis believes the sector will see changes in student recruitment method, teaching method, business model with differential pricing options, collaboration with businesses and other institutions domestically and internationally, alternative educational providers and life-long learning options after graduation.

Dennis said the past 14 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have shed a bright light on the many inefficiencies in the current higher education system. It also shed a bright light on alternative educational providers that offer cheaper and job-related courses.

“College and university students and their parents are determined not to graduate with unmanageable debt,” Dennis said. “They will enroll in schools with robust career counseling and internship opportunities and with a proven track record for graduate school placement and job placement at graduation.”