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Algoma University balances budget with fewer students expected this fall

Algoma University says it has approved a balanced operating budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, even though the school is expecting a significant reduction in students this fall.

The $43.3 million budget was approved on Thursday by the university’s board of governors.

On March 16, the university physically shut down to students due to COVID-19 and started offering courses online. The university is continuing to offer online courses during its spring term and it says decisions on what the fall term will look like will be released in the coming weeks.

Asima Vezina, the president and vice-chancellor of the university, says the budget had to be adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve rejigged our enrolment projections based on what we’re learning about how students are feeling going into September, what’s happening with our international community, limited flight access,” she said. “[As well as] some of the other challenges our students are facing with family responsibilities, financial challenges, etc.”

The initial enrolment projection of 2,300 full-time equivalent students has been reduced by 24 per cent to 1,739 students for the upcoming year.

Vezina says the pandemic is also costing the university financially.

“In our projections so far, we really have calculated the cost of COVID to be upwards around $10 million to the university,” she said.

“Others are experiencing similar kinds of financial challenges going into this fiscal.”

Asima Vezina is the president and vice-chancellor of Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Steve Silva/CBC)

She says leading up to COVID, enrolment was continuing to grow.

“When COVID hit, we had not gone crazy with our spending in terms of the operating budget,” she said.

“I think that put us in a better position to be able to manage some of the cuts that we were actually making.”

Those cuts are mainly in the operating side of the budget, including travel and events, she said.

“It’s the most challenging budget I’ve ever been a part of because there are so many unknowns,” she said. “We’re still very uncertain about the fall.”

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