As the academic year draws to a close, higher education institutions around the country are now debating how to proceed when the 2020-21 school year begins in fall. Northwestern president Morton Schapiro went on CNBC on Tuesday to discuss the implications of COVID-19 for the university’s financial and educational plans.
In the interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans, Schapiro said Northwestern is considering several options for student housing, such as opening up dorms that currently are not in use or potentially renting out floors of nearby hotels.
While he admitted it would be financially difficult for Northwestern if students did not return in person in the fall, Schapiro emphasized safety is the top priority, calling the revenue aspect “secondary.”
“But the real considerations, as you can guess, are ‘can you test them, can you isolate them, can you do quarantines, can you spread them out’ … we all want to open up but, but we’re only going to do it if it’s safe,” Schapiro said in the interview. “And not just safe, of course, as Chris[tina] Paxson president of Brown said so beautifully in yesterday’s New York Times OP/ED, it’s not just safe for students, but it’s safe for the faculty and staff, who are much older.”
In an emailed statement to North by Northwestern, Jon Yates, Director of Media Relations, commented on the process of figuring out plans for the upcoming school year.
“All options are on the table as we consider Fall Quarter, including smaller class sizes, the use of technology and remote courses, flexibility in course design, living arrangements and the like,” Yates said. “There are myriad factors to consider, and we have not removed any options from consideration at this time.”
Some students have been calling for tuition breaks after colleges around the country moved their instruction online at least until the end of spring. Northwestern refunded spring room and board.
In reference to fall quarter and whatever shape it may take, Yates said, “There are no plans to discount or refund tuition.”
In the CNBC interview, Schapiro said that Northwestern will turn down the $8.5 million that it is eligible to receive through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Half of that, over $4.26 million, was the minimum allocation to be awarded for emergency financial aid grants to students. In an email sent out April 16, Schapiro said that Northwestern has given out more than $1.5 million to students who requested financial assistance for reasons related to COVID-19.
Over email, Yates commented on this as well.
“As previously stated, we determined that we are unable to accept the requirements and evolving regulatory guidance regarding the CARES Act,” he said.
President Trump and other lawmakers have criticized the CARES Act for doling out billions to universities that already enjoy large endowments, specifically naming Harvard, which sits on the country’s largest university endowment of roughly $40 billion. Harvard turned down the aid, as did other wealthy universities such as Princeton and Yale.
Yates said Northwestern expects to offer more guidance for students about fall quarter plans later this summer.