Federal Aid, Record Application Number Help Edward Waters College Stay Afloat
Thanks to millions of dollars in federal aid and the potential for record enrollment this fall, Edward Waters College looks as if it will make it through the coronavirus pandemic relatively unscathed.
EWC, Jacksonville’s historically black college, was on spring break when the state and city started responding to the coronavirus pandemic. The college almost immediately began transitioning classes to being exclusively online, and students haven’t been on campus since March 5.
Classes continued online through the remainder of the spring term, which ended on May 8.
“Moving online was a struggle, in particular, because many of our students just did not have the technology in their homes to be able to access or to be able to complete an online instruction,” said Zachary Faison, president and CEO of EWC.
That transition resulted in several unplanned expenditures, such as the school’s buying 700 laptops to help students with online learning. On top of that, the school lost revenue from room and board.
EWC did allow students to remain in on-campus housing, but students who opted to vacate their housing due to the pandemic were given partial credit of room and board charges.
EWC is not not planning any layoffs or pay cuts or furloughs, as some other institutions are, including Jacksonville University.
Faison said, “So, while there have certainly been some impacts — and we are grappling with those — right now it appears that for the immediate term that we're going to be able to handle some of those losses.”
One major factor contributing to the college’s ability to handle those losses is funding from the federal government.
EWC initially got about $1.3 million from the CARES Act. While 50% of that had to be used exclusively for emergency grant aid to students for their educational and personal needs, EWC got another $2.3 million from a pool of CARES Act funding that was set aside for HBCUs.
EWC will be using those funds to help offset some revenue losses. Faison said he hopes the school will be getting additional financial support, including a forgivable loan from the Payroll Protection Program.
On top of that funding, initial data suggests record enrollment for Fall 2020.
EWC has seen a 63% increase in applications and a 43% increase in acceptance rates when comparing data from the last year.
“As we sit here today, we've got probably a little over 400 students that have indicated some intent to enroll at EWC,” Faison said. “So we're cautiously optimistic. Now, obviously, given the changing landscape of the pandemic, we just don't know what that's going to look like come early fall.”
Faison believes those record numbers are due to changes in leadership and strategy as well as investments made in college facilities and EWC’s launching its first online degree program.
About two weeks ago, EWC established what it’s calling the COVID-19 Campus Operations Re-Engineering (CORE) Task Force, which is made up of faculty, staff, students, and administrators.
“It’s a cross section of our entire academic community, because obviously this impacts the entire community,” Faison explained. “They're going to be the ones that really make a recommendation to me as to what they collectively believe is the best pathway forward for EWC, in terms of reopening.”
At the moment, senior staff are planning to return to campus on June 1 with the rest of the staff coming back to work around the 15th of June. The hope is to have students back on campus sometime in August.
“Of course, all of that being health and safety conditions permitting,” Faison said. “But even if we're able to do that, we're going to be operating in a total new normal. And so we've got to think about what that's going to look like.”
If that timeline ends up getting delayed, Faison said the school will be prepared.
“The institution sits in a place of some strength with regards to being able to respond and continue operations, whether we're able to bring everyone back or whether we're having to continue to move and operate in the online space,” he said.
Initial surveys conducted by the school indicate that around 80% of students want to return to campus or move to a hybrid model with a mix of online and face-to-face interactions.
EWC recently put in an order for personal protective equipment for when students and faculty do return to campus.