SURPRISING OURSELVES: HOW CHAPMAN SURVIVED COVID AND WHERE WE’RE GOING NEXT

Covid-19 blurs the image people once had of the future of Chapman University. Photo provided by Sofia Fern. Photo edited by Joy Joukhadar

Sophomore psychology major Annie Rooks would have never believed that Chapman University wouldn’t lose any money during the hell-scape that was the 2020 fiscal year.

Rooks, like many students, is aware of Chapman’s standing as the 124th best university in the United States. That’s from U.S. News & World, considered the college ranking bible. 

Not the best school, but by no means bad.

President Struppa enjoys a day on campus. Photo provided by President Struppa.

And, it turns out, Chapman has so far survived the pandemic better than most. And it’s got big numbers — and big gun credit raters — to back that up. The final result of the 2020 fiscal year was astounding: not a single dime was lost, and the endowment of roughly half a billion was left untouched.

Said Rooks: “I love it here, don’t get me wrong. Chapman’s a great school, but we’re not Harvard. I just didn’t think we were gonna have the resources or connections that giant or famous schools have to stay afloat during hard times.”

But Struppa’s optimism is high despite pandemic challenges.

“You know what’s going to happen?,” Struppa said. “You’re going to see some fluctuation in our 124 [standing]. Maybe we’ll go [up] to 113 and we get [down] to 135, but the trend is going to be upwards. And eventually we’re going to get into the top hundred.”

 Recent data is on his side. Better than expected. Which means Chapman can reach beyond the pandemic to prioritize not just rebranding, but inventing how Chapman is seen and run.

There was one temporary setback. In July of 2020, New York University Professor Scott Galloway and some of his colleagues published an excel sheet where his team dissected different universities and determined their likelihood of surviving the pandemic. The team’s prediction that Chapman was likely to be challenged by its Covid-induced losses prompted mass anxiety amongst students.

Annika Dietker enjoying a pumpkin patch. Photo provided by Annika Dietiker.

Said sophomore business administration major Annika Dietiker:

“I was definitely scared, especially thinking about how much time and money I’ve invested in this education here. And thinking about the possibility of having to go through the process of transferring to another school should Chapman not survive. Then wondering if a new school would accept the credits I’ve already completed.”

However, Moody, the highly respected credit rating firm,  had a vastly different perspective. While most schools were rated negatively, with citations of pandemic related expenses and the predicted decrease in people pursuing college degrees, Chapman had none of that. Moody gave Chapman a 2A grading, which essentially means its team sees Chapman as a promising, on-the riseTags institution worth investing in. If these interest rates were applied to people, imagine this means Chapman’s FICO score is over 750.

Chapman’s outperformed its own predictions as well. Chief Operating Officer Harold Hewitt shared that the school prepared for a predicted 14% enrollment decline, but enrollment only went down by 4%.

Gaurav enjoying a day at the beach. Photo provided by Gaurav Chintamneedi.

Freshmen political science major Gaurav Chintamneedi wasn’t surprised by the amount of returning panthers. He said, 

”Students are aware of what it’s like being online but still want to make those connections,” he said. “They know we have great people here who are optimistic for the future. One year went down the drain, but we got three more to go.”

Another reason more students than expected returned for the 2020-2021 school year was because of financial aid. The school set aside $14 million for the incoming class, all of who’s financial aid will stay the same even if their financial situations change in a post-Covid world.

 Hewitt also reported that Chapman didn’t have to fire or furlough anyone–something most universities weren’t able to finance. The institution had to freeze all open staff positions and temporarily stop adding finances to faculty retirements funds. But most losses were to student jobs.

Chapman’s original five-year plan was vastly different when it was proposed and approved in 2018. There were five main goals: establishing the new Fowler engineering center, becoming more diverse, honing in on research from students and faculty, investing in both campuses, and fundraising.

According to Chapman’s 2018-2023 strategic plan, within the next five years, Chapman was on track to spend $315.1 million on expansion and renovations. Chapman already spent $154.5 million on the purchase of Chapman Grand apartments for students and $47.4 million on the new K student residency. 

However, Covid threw a wrench in those original plans. Hewitt said that Chapman took approximately $30 million away from operating budgets and another $30-40 million from capital projects, such as expansion or renovation. The institution had to refund roughly $14.5 million to students who were no longer using Chapman’s housing and dining facilities. 

Harold Hewitt acts as COO of Chapman University. Photo provided by Allison Kelley.

Plus, the school was making roughly 35 cents for every dollar spent at Chapman. So, without students lined at Einstein’s and Starbucks spending five dollars on a latte, three dollars on a bagel, 2 dollars on cake pops, ect, they estimated a $28 million net loss.

Immense efforts went into reworking the budget and garnering donations. According to President Struppa, one family alone donated $1 million to ease its budget burdens.

So, the bottom line:

Chapman is approximately 300 million in debt. But it has $1.6 billion in assets. Which is a far better ratio that most schools its size.

Assistant Vice President for Finance and Budget Michael Price said the university still plans on investing and renovating the Rinker campus and adding a student center for the hundreds of students there, which would include a book store, student services, and dining facilities–a feat that should take roughly $40 million. There’s also plans to start funneling millions into STEM fields and more STEM oriented students, specifically citing the growth of the Fowler School of Engineering.

Professor Blaser with his dog, Ollie. Photo provided by Arthur Blaser.

Professor Arthur Blaser has been teaching at the university since the 1980s. As a member of the faculty for decades, he says he’s witnessed Chapman grow physically, become more diverse. He also noticed the school simultaneously expanded its creative fields, the humanities, and become more research-based. 

According to Blaser:

“Covid is changing Chapman, and changing the world, but a big question is precisely how.  It’s heightened inequalities: we’ll need to realize we need to embrace people who are different, and to be willing to learn from the local and global communities.  We’ll see how well Chapman and the rest of the world responds to Covid’s effects in the coming years and to the effects of Covid to come.”

President Struppa would agree, but he wants more from Chapman. He feels that it has  done well, changing from a primarily white institution to a school who’s graduate program is less than 40% white. In the State of the University Address, he shared that the undergraduate population is only 51% white. He’s proud of the accomplishments of the Latinx students who continue to succeed at Chapman, but feels that more should be done for the Black student population.

Annie Rooks enjoying an amusement park pre-covid. Photo provided by Annie Rooks.

President Struppa is adamant that Chapman will be more known and more respected, sooner rather than later. He cites the well-known faculty in Dodge from Argyros, the research of respected political scientists and physicists, all who work at and mentor students at Chapman.

Rooks knows Chapman’s no Notre Dame, but she sees the school as an up and coming university.

She says, “We’re not the biggest school and we’re definitely not the most well known, but we have a lot of great programs and great people. I can see Chapman on the rise, but not without some more work.”

 

 

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