More than three weeks since Lehigh announced it is planning to open its campus this fall semester, the university is still noncommittal on the cost of tuition this academic year.
Meanwhile, over $2,000 for students and their families hang in the balance.
Lehigh originally announced a 4 percent tuition increase for the 2020-21 academic year this past February. The planned increase was to follow a 4.4 percent tuition increase the year prior and a 4.3 percent increase the year before that.
Tuition was set to increase by $2,190, leaving the total cost of attending Lehigh as an undergraduate at approximately $72,440 this academic year.
But after Lehigh was forced to shut its campus down in March due to COVID-19 and issue related refunds to housing and dining plans, the university has faced a series of financial hurdles. The university announced a $40 million budget shortfall and was forced to place certain employees on furlough, which began on July 1. Lehigh also implemented a hiring freeze and certain high level administrators have taken pay cuts.
And the last admissions cycle also proved to be challenging for Lehigh. The university saw more than 3,000 fewer applicants for the class of 2024 compared to the class of 2023, even while the university attempts to grow its student body under the Path to Prominence.
In an April Brown and White article, which reported on other universities’ decisions to freeze tuition for this coming year, Lehigh had not yet made a decision on its planned tuition hike.
“Lehigh is exploring several options, but no decisions have been made,” said Pat Johnson, Lehigh’s vice president of Finance and Administration, in April. “I don’t expect us to announce any plans until after the semester ends.”
The Brown and White has inquired multiple times since then to check in on any decision Lehigh has made regarding the cost of tuition. On June 14, Johnson couldn’t report any final decisions on the matter.
“We are still looking at financial models, so the university has not finalized any decisions about tuition,” Johnson said in a June 14 email, which came days after Lehigh announced its plan to reopen campus this fall.
A follow up request on July 1 has gone unanswered thus far.
The questions on tuition come after the university released a general outline of what the semester will look like this fall.
Any in-person instruction or activities will end at Thanksgiving break. Every course will be taught at least partially online, large lectures will “almost certainly” be entirely remote and face coverings will be required in any public space on campus. Any large gathering will likely be canceled or held virtually, and dining “grab and go” options will be expanded.
Libraries, recreational facilities and residence hall common areas will need to comply with social distancing guidelines. All students, faculty and staff will “be required to complete training and acknowledge that they agree to uphold these community standards before returning to campus.”
Lehigh also said there “may be a reduction in the number of beds available in residence halls” due to COVID-19 restrictions, and the university is “working with hotels” to provide additional beds if needed.
The “phased opening” would allow Lehigh faculty, staff and graduate students to work on campus starting Aug. 3. Social distancing, hygiene and density reduction practices must be in effect, according to the university’s website.
While all Pennsylvania counties are now in the least restrictive “green” phase of reopening, Lehigh’s phased opening plan will roll out as coronavirus cases are spiking nationwide.
The nearby states of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut recently announced individuals entering the Tri-state area from one of 16 states must self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. The list of states under the new travel advisory include Florida, Arizona, Texas and California, among others — four states currently seeing a surge in cases.