The University of Wyoming will see a budget reduction of $42.3 million worth of grant money from the state, a 10% cut, over the next two years amid the COVID-19 pandemic, biennium budget committee chair and trustee John McKinley said at Thursday morning’s UW Board of Trustees meeting.
A subsequent budget reduction plan will be created by UW president Ed Seidel and a budget reduction working group in the coming months. It must be presented for final approval within 45 days.
The university’s current state budget was approved in late May prior to knowledge that funding would be slashed. The initial level of state funding for UW’s current biennial budget is set at just under $445.5 million. With a 10% reduction, that number would be cut to a little over $403 million in state funding.
“We have been preparing for this process since the summer, and we’ll now take the steps to develop a specific plan that achieves the necessary reductions while building a best-in-class 21st century land-grant university true to its Wyoming roots,” Seidel said in a statement. “We’re working to help lay the foundation for the new economy of the state. In order to do this well, UW needs to continue to develop deep and authentic partnerships with community colleges, communities, businesses and government organizations as we support the building of the workforce across the state.”
During the same board meeting, Seidel discussed a change in protocol to the school’s pause plan, which was enacted for the first time Sept. 2. The pause, which was written into the schools COVID contingency plan, was put into place following five or more symptomatic tests results among students or staff in a given day. The pause lasted through Monday.
Under a new set of standards, pauses would not be automatically triggered by the previous standard and would instead result in a “conversation” that could include a variety of solutions, which includes shutting down specific buildings or classrooms, sheltering in place, or shutting down specific residence hall floors.
Among the updated indicators that would result in potential action are:
— Five symptomatic cases within the campus community
— A 20% increase in seven-day rolling average
— 15 cases within a two-day span
— One fatality
— Capacity for quarantine is less than 20%
While pauses are still on the table, the new standard is being adopted so the school can remain open whenever possible. A pause requires the majority of campus business to be conducted remotely, including classes.
“Previously the intervention was with five symptomatic cases. We went into a pause for the whole campus,” Seidel said. “We want to make sure that the campus remains open.”
Per the university’s dashboard, there are currently 96 total positive COVID-19 cases within the UW community. All students and staff are required to take a test prior to returning to campus, and everyone already on-campus is being tested at least once per week, according to a spokesperson.
A total of 7,586 of Vault Bridge tests have been given on-campus since Aug. 24, when classes began and students started returning; Seidel said that testing costs approximately $400,000 per week, but that he expected CARES Act funding would ultimately help cover the costs. Starting Sept. 28, surveillance testing, which only requires a saliva sample, will be administered once or twice a week.
UW has received $52.6 million in COVID relief administered by the governor’s office, which includes money for testing, face coverings and cleaning. In total, UW has received $64.5 million in CARES Act grants and aid.
“It isn’t cheap, but I am confident at this point that the CARES funding that we have received is in place,” Seidel said.
The university is now in Phase Two of its return to campus plan, which estimates 4,400 people back on campus. Most courses will still occur online, though first-year seminars and certain graduate courses will take place in-person.
Phase Three, when the campus is open for all students and staff, is set to begin Sept. 28 and last through Nov. 20. Starting Nov. 23, all courses will once again be remote and much of the campus will be closed through the end of the semester.
Per the Board of Trustees presentation, total enrollment at UW this fall is down just 3% compared to 2019, with a current headcount of 11,886 total students. Graduate and professional programs saw a slight overall increase of 49 students compared to last fall.