Dear AU Community,
As we celebrate Founders Week, we honor American University’s history and values, continue the momentum we see in our community today, and chart our path forward through the pandemic and beyond. These moments of reflection and optimism are critical, particularly in a time of so many challenges for members of our community, across higher education, and throughout the country and the world.
Maintaining our momentum and continuing to build our foundation for the future depends on three key areas–remaining vigilant in following health and safety guidance (Wear a mask!), effectively managing the university’s budget in support of our people and our priorities, and advancing the return to in-person activities, with the student experience at the center of our efforts. We have made great strides in all these areas, thanks to the solid foundation of our strategy and the dedication of our community. Now, we must continue our work, and today’s update outlines important developments in our budgeting and the continuing ramp up of face-to-face experiences that will help shape the year ahead.
Supporting Momentum with Strategic Budgeting
We are completing the FY 2022 budget, which will be reviewed at the Board of Trustees meeting in March. The FY 2022 one-year budget is a critical bridge as we begin transitioning to the post-COVID world. It furthers the achievements we are experiencing throughout the university and builds toward the FY 2023-24 two-year budget development process that will commence in the fall and align with years four and five of the Changemakers strategic plan. We continue to invest in key strategic priorities, provide flexibility to adapt based on learnings from COVID-19, and meet the needs of our community.
While the final budget details are being finished, we can report today that there will be no tuition increase for the 2021-2022 academic year. Tuition (undergraduate, graduate, and WCL) and housing costs will return to the original levels set in the FY 2021 budget. This decision supports our students and families and contributes to our long-term commitment to diversifying revenue and expanding access to higher education.
We always planned for a two-year financial impact from COVID-19, and our cost savings and other mitigation measures to date, including the use of reserves and endowment resources to cover more than 40 percent of the budget shortfall, have been important steps in navigating the financial difficulties. Everyone across the university contributed to the savings. Returning to the original FY 2021 tuition levels means that developing our FY 2022 budget is more challenging, and we will need to focus intently on enrollment, retention, and expense management.
As we pursue our enrollment and retention goals, we must capitalize on the opportunities before us. This year, we saw the second highest number of undergraduate applications in our history and a 20 percent increase in graduate applications, which is encouraging in a time when recruiting students is a significant challenge. But we have much work to do to convert the applications to enrollments and retain our current students. The 10 percent AU Community of Care tuition discount, which provided financial assistance as students and families addressed the economic impact of COVID-19, will conclude at the end of the current spring semester (May 2021). To reach our intended outcomes, we have to engage students in many different ways and continuously demonstrate the American University’s high-quality education and experiences. We all have a role to play as ambassadors of AU.
We are also continuing the discipline around our expense savings, which is fundamental to our long-term finances. While we know some of these savings measures create additional challenges for our faculty and staff, this ongoing work and enrollment are critical to our path to resuming university contributions to employee retirement plans and the annual merit pool in the next fiscal year. Additionally, we are currently not planning further COVID-related furloughs in the budget. While it has been a difficult year, American University persevered by living our values and supporting our people, which was critical in a world of economic uncertainty and higher education has suffered more than 650,000 layoffs.
The university budget is truly a community endeavor that is grounded in our values. We will be discussing the university’s planning and trajectory for fall, including the FY 2022 budget, during the AU Community Forum at 4 p.m. on Thursday, February 25. If you have not registered, you can do so online, and submit your questions for the Q&A portion of the forum. There will also be individual webinars for students, faculty, and staff in the coming weeks (dates to be announced).
Advancing the Return to Campus
Another key element of our near-term future, the transition to a post-COVID world, and the budget is the continued ramp up of in-person activity and the return to face-to-face learning. The upcoming spring mid-semester residential experience marks a key milestone in this process for our community. Based on the expected trajectory of the pandemic, the rollout of vaccines, and our health and safety practices, we are currently on track to conduct in-person classes and residential experiences for the fall 2021 semester.
As we move forward on this path, our priorities remain the same–promoting the health and safety of our community, progressing our educational and research mission, and supporting the broader response to COVID-19 in the DC region. This is an evolutionary process as our knowledge about COVID-19 continues to grow, the public health situation changes with the advent of vaccines, and we understand more of how COVID-19 will remain a part of life for some time.
Importantly, as we’ve outlined before, we are building on the lessons of the past year to ensure our future learning and working environments provide the right frameworks, flexibility, and opportunity for our students, faculty, and staff. We are exploring the elements of telework and virtual learning that may be part of our future operations. Our approach will advance face-to-face learning for our students, promote a healthy and safe campus environment, and support our workforce. Work is underway right now to address how in-person classes and jobs will safely return to campus. As we progress these areas and build specific plans for the fall, there will be opportunities for input from our community and additional information in the coming months. As always, we will continue to monitor the health and safety conditions and make the best decisions to support our community.
The dedication of our community has brought us to this positive juncture, and while we have much work to do in the coming months, our path forward is one of hope and opportunity.
Be safe and be well.
Sylvia M. Burwell
Acting Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence
Vice President and Chief Communications Officer
Vice President, General Counsel, and Board Secretary
Vice President, People and External Affairs & Chief of Staff and Counselor to the President
Chief Financial Officer, Vice President, and Treasurer
Vice President and Chief Information Officer
Vice President, Development and Alumni Relations
Director, Athletics and Recreation