Alvernia University in Reading is moving and renaming its school of nursing.
Nursing programs will now be offered in the John and Karen Arnold School of Nursing and will be located at the newly named John R. Post Center at Reading CollegeTowne.
The naming of the nursing school is in recognition of the university’s largest philanthropic gift by a trustee in Alvernia’s 64-year history.
The donation from the business leaders and philanthropists will support the expansion of the nursing program, which the school described as a key component of the second phase of the CollegeTowne renovation.
“I would like to acknowledge the incredible generosity of the Arnold family, whose leadership in addressing the needs of our community and support of our vision for the City of Reading, Berks County and beyond will benefit generations of future students and residents,” said Alvernia University President John R. Loyack.
“We are ecstatic to begin the second phase of renovation to the John R. Post Center to meet the demands for qualified healthcare professionals in our region and continue to ignite economic redevelopment in downtown Reading.”
The project will add over 25,000 square feet of classroom and lab space, including a new Healthcare Simulation Center.
The state-of-the-art simulation facilities will enhance Alvernia’s accredited professional undergraduate and graduate nursing degree programs.
“Karen and I are excited to support Alvernia University’s Reading CollegeTowne Initiative and the expansion of the School of Nursing,” said Arnold. “Reading CollegeTowne is having a transformational impact on the City of Reading, and the expansion of the School of Nursing, and the new facility in Reading CollegeTowne, will assist in meeting workforce development needs of the local healthcare organizations in our community now and well into the future.”
Relocating the nursing programs will help expand the program’s capacity and allow for the graduation of additional new RNs entering the region in various healthcare settings.
Alvernia University in Reading will be partnering with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance to offer a discount on tuition to its members.
The university will offer GRCA members a 20% discount of tuition for all eligible graduate and adult undergraduate programs.
“GRCA is committed to learning and advancing our workforce, and we are excited to offer our members a tuition discount to pursue professional and personal development through our partnership with Alvernia,” said Julie Larison, senior director of membership services for the GRCA.
Accelerated bachelors, master’s and doctoral programs and certificate programs will be available to members in addition to full access as a student to university resources including state-of-the-art computer labs, library resources, volunteer opportunities, a career development team, fitness centers, athletic events and more.
“Through our Reading CollegeTowne initiative, we are committed to the economic development of the greater Reading region,” said Alvernia University President John R. Loyack. “We are grateful for the opportunity to help the GRCA expand its mission by providing opportunities for regional businesses to develop and retain higher performing employees through our flexible, relevant and in-demand academic programs and the development of new businesses through the O’Pake Institute’s student-powered business incubator.”
Pandemic. Yes, it really happened. And, yes it has been a major interruption to life as we knew it. It also gave us a moment to pause, redefine priorities and find new ways to connect with the people with whom we share our lives.
As the effects of the pandemic touched most of the earth’s inhabitants, what became clear is that we may be going through this together, but the experience is very different for each person. And, as we look for ways to continue to safely re-enter the three-dimensional world we left behind on March 11, 2020, knowledge, common sense, safety, priorities and creativity have been playing important roles in that re-entry process.
Making Business Fun Again
Last summer, Meggan Kerber, associate vice president of advancement at Alvernia University, introduced tailgate coffee. By carrying two tailgating chairs and a small table in her car, she was able to stay connected face-to-face with colleagues, co-workers and friends on a regular basis. It also provided a way for Kerber and her husband to enjoy take-out meals from their favorite restaurants, while appreciating scenic views around the area.
David Wise II, owner of six 1-800-GOT-JUNK? locations, is committed to the people in his company. Wise clearly recognizes the importance of relationships and developing the people in a business. Even though company sales were trailing behind during the pandemic, Wise found creative ways to make the business fun again and keep the team together while inspiring collaboration.
Wise initially rented a movie theater and catered individual meals to give everyone a night out. More recently, he took team members to Miami for a company meeting and a bit of water sports. As a result, he noted the team was better equipped to work “on” the business instead of being stuck in the business. The connectedness, conversations, level of innovation and the outlook and ownership of the future, came more easily than it could have through a virtual setting.
“There are ways to be safe and smart in bringing people together,” Wise told me. “The intangible benefits of bringing people together are big. It’s too difficult building and deepening relationships on Zoom. Need to be shoulder to shoulder, working better together. Things you might think are obvious, might not be to others. It’s easier to see it when you’re in person.”
Staying Connected To Your Industry
Industry partners, Bill Fraser, Fraser – Advance Information Services, West Reading; John Kuchta, All Copy Products, Lincoln, Nebraska; and Barry Simon, Datamax, Inc., Little Rock, Arkansas, were together recently for an industry conference. Because their businesses support clients on the frontlines, it was critical for them to join a group of 70 colleagues, peers and suppliers to learn about the efficiencies of new products being introduced, work through supplier mergers, supply chain issues and strategies and be able to support each other as many of their peers across the country were struggling.
All three business leaders agreed that the conference attracted a higher attendance this year, there is a pent-up demand for travel and socialization and a key topic of discussion centered around ideas on how to get everybody back to work, starting with the hospitality industry.
We Are Open, Keep People Working
In talking with these business leaders, it became apparent how much they have in common. Each company leveraged their healthy workplace culture as the foundation for navigating the pandemic. Employee and client safety were always at the forefront as they put recommended and practical protocols in place, and kept the lines of communication with their employees, vendor partners and community wide open.
Kuchta spoke about his company’s mantra “We are Open,” and what it meant to live it. Living the mantra takes a lot of extra planning, training and practicing safety protocols. “We were aware many employees in the industry had been furloughed. We did everything we could to take care of our 450 employees across seven states, and keep everyone working. Some at home, some onsite at our client locations (local and remote), and some in the office. Safety always came first, regardless of how far they had to travel to perform their work.”
Doing The Right Thing
On March 4, 2020, Simon started hearing about a shut-down in the country. “When it was announced, we decided to keep everyone on the payroll, even if they were not productive. It was the right thing to do. We also identified who of our team members could work from home and who could not. Engineers and technicians were considered essential to support frontline clients. The salespeople are social people and they did not like working at home, so we brought them back to the office. We had misting machines, kiosks for taking temperatures and other tools to help keep people and environments safe. When we needed to be onsite, we made sure everyone was safe with proper protective equipment.”
Sharing a common ideal of “our people first,” gave Wise, Fraser, Kutcha and Simon the impetus to not lose their focus, look at the situation from all perspectives, gain as much knowledge as possible, keep moving forward, bond more closely with their teams through constant and open communication, and make the best qualified decisions.
As many companies and employees currently prefer a virtual world of work, the long-term effects are yet to be determined. Using safety and common-sense protocols as a clearly defined position, helped each of the four companies quickly regain their connection to a three-dimensional world.
What steps are you taking, and how will they impact the future of your company, employees and outlook for what’s next?
Bonnie Sussman-Versace is a principal at FOCUSED LLC in Wyomissing, who leads business and leadership development forums for emerging and next generation leaders. She can be reached at [email protected].
With nearly 15 years of experience in public accounting, consulting and corporate leadership, Joshua E. Hoffman, has been named Chief Financial Officer of Alvernia University.
He previously was a CFO adviser at Stambaugh Ness, a professional services firm based in East York.
Alvernia President John R. Loyack said the university will benefit from Hoffman’s experience as it moves forward with its Reading CollegeTowne initiative, a strategy that expands Alvernia’s campus into the downtown area with a goal of spurring economic development in Reading and Berks County.
“In addition to his depth of experience in accounting and finance, Josh has an impressive track record in strategic planning and risk management,” Loyack said. “His ability to develop a data-driven approach and improve business practices and processes will greatly benefit Alvernia’s new strategic direction.”
Hoffman also served in finance and leadership roles in the insurance industry with Donegal Insurance Group, Reamstown Mutual Insurance Company and Goodville Mutual Casualty Company. He said he is anxious to join the Alvernia team.
“With a deep, lifelong appreciation for the benefits of education, I am excited to join Alvernia and its forward-thinking approach to higher education,” said Hoffman, who grew up in Central Pennsylvania. “I look forward to joining a talented and newly-aligned senior leadership team under the direction of President Loyack.”
During four years with Reamstown Mutual Insurance Company, Hoffman rose from CFO to CEO. He led strategic planning and was responsible for overhauls of the IT systems and in-house claims management operations. He also introduced a new organizational structure to upgrade human resources.
Hoffman holds an MBA from Penn State University and a bachelor’s in accounting from Shippensburg University. He currently serves on the board of directors for Ephrata National Bank and ENB Financial Corp., the Warwick School District Finance and Legal Committee and as President of the Rotary Club of Lititz.
At a time when local economies are sagging under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, Reading may be seeing hints of a downtown revival thanks, apparently, to Alvernia University’s CollegeTowne project.
Since the school announced plans to purchase for the former I-LEAD charter school building at Fourth and Penn streets and use it as an extension of its campus, ambitious plans for three more buildings — the former Reading Eagle Company building next door, the Madison Building at 400 Washington St., and The Berkshire Building at 501 Washington St., have been revealed. All four are within blocks of each other, and hold the promise of pumping new life the city’s downtown.
Also, developer Alan Shuman of Shuman Development Group plans to renovate the 12-story Medical Arts Building in the 200 block of N. Fifth St., in a residential/commercial property with 31-unit residential units and four commercial units, according to the Reading Eagle.
“It’s definitely Reading’s time, and it’s very exciting to see this happening,” said Aaron Gantz, executive director of downtown development for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance. “Hopefully, these investments will pique the interest of other investors and we’ll reach the critical mass we need to really keep this development moving forward.”
Gantz gave credit to the university, which last year purchased the five-story former I-LEAD Charter School that will serve as the centerpiece of Alvernia’s CollegeTowne, an initiative aimed at spurring economic development in Reading and Berks County. Alvernia recently announced it would add three engineering majors that will be run from the downtown location. Other courses of study also will operate from the downtown building, which will include student housing, restaurants and other uses.
“Much of what is happening downtown is due to Alvernia University’s CollegeTowne development,” Gantz said.
Orlando Cuevas, the owner of iPM Assist Inc, a Philadelphia-based development firm that is overseeing the planning and renovation of the Reading Eagle, Berkshire and Madison buildings, also called out the university for its role in sparking the downtown revitalization.
“Alvernia was definitely the start of this whole push toward buying and converting these old buildings,” he said.
NAI Keystone real estate agent Steve Willems, who announced the pending sale of the former Reading Eagle building last month, declined to identify the potential buyer or sale price because the property is under contract.
Edward Condra, senior publisher of MediaNews Group, a Denver, Colo.-based company that purchased the assets of Reading Eagle Company last year and took over operations of the newspaper July 1, 2019, said he was unaware of what the new owner plans to do with the building.
Cuevas said it will be converted into a multi-faceted operation including a business networking site with communal work space on the third floor, studios suitable for start-up businesses, a gym, retail establishments, restaurants, and family-fun space. Cuevos also said the building will remain home to the staff of the Reading Eagle.
“Those guys aren’t going anywhere,” Cuevos said. “We’re going to work with them because we can’t have the Reading Eagle building without the Reading Eagle.”
Efforts to reach Condra for confirmation that the staff would remain were not successful.
At the Berkshire Building, plans are underway for about 40 apartments that will house international students beginning in fall 2021. The building, constructed in 1914, is owned by New Jersey-based Lexington Realty International.
John R. Loyack, Alvernia University president, said the university is the final design phase for the apartments, and is working with current international students to determine how the apartments can best meet the needs of future occupants.
Most of the residents who will live in the Berkshire are expected to be from Saudi Arabia, which provides funding for qualified Saudi students to study in the United States. The university currently has about 35 Saudi students enrolled, Loyack said, mostly in science and business programs. Students from additional countries also are expected to be enrolled in the coming years.
“We are excited about the globalization of our campus and the experience it provides for our students and the community,” Loyack said. “We’ll be adding students from all over the globe.”
International students are not required to live on the university’s main campus, Loyack said, and he believes the Berkshire location will be advantageous, as many of the Saudi students are expected to be enrolled in classes that will be held downtown.
“There’s not an abundance of apartments available in Berks County, so this seemed like a good opportunity for us and for our students,” Loyack said.
Cuevos said the apartments would be ready by August 2021, and he hopes the Reading Eagle building will be ready to open at the same time. However, some parts of the Reading Eagle building, specifically the gym, may open earlier, perhaps later this year. He is working closely with city officials, including Reading Mayor Eddie Moran, who has been supportive of the iPM’s efforts, and that county officials also have reached out in support.
Meanwhile, construction is underway at the Madison building, which will offer luxury apartments, a rooftop bar, retail space and other amenities, according to Cuevos. That 14-story building, constructed in 1926 and 1927 as the Metropolitan Edison building, is owned by the Scharf Group, Brooklyn, New York. The building is expected to open in August 2021.
Loyack, who took over as Alvernia’s president in July, 2019, led an initiative similar to CollegeTowne during his tenure as executive vice president for business and administration at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre. He said the initiative greatly spurred downtown development in Wilkes-Barre and he is hopeful the same will occur in Reading.
“It was great to see the comeback in Wilkes-Barre, and I think we’ll see that same thing happen in Reading,” Loyack said. “You can already see the CollegeTowne footprint starting to emerge.”
Alvernia University will add three engineering programs in a move to supply graduates who can fill the needs of the local workforce, officials announced a news conference in downtown Reading. Beginning in fall 2021, students will be able to begin earning bachelor of science degrees in electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering.
“The Alvernia advantage and our student-centered approach is in full swing,” said John Loyack, Alvernia president.
The announcement was made at the site of Alvernia’s CollegeTowne building at 401 Penn Street. The five-story building, which formerly housed I-LEAD Charter School, will serve as the centerpiece for CollegeTowne, an initiative to spur economic development in Reading and Berks County. The engineering programs, along with several other majors, will operate from that location.
The downtown center, on which construction is expected to begin in early 2021, also will include classrooms and labs, loft-style student housing, retail outlets and restaurants. It will be home to a student-centered business incubator to be run by the university’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship.
Initiated only six months ago, the business incubator already has partnerships with 31 businesses.
The engineering tracks were added following consultation between the university and area business leaders, said Dr. Glynis Fitzgerald, Alvernia’s senior vice president and provost. The university plans to partner with area business and industry to produce job-ready graduates. In exchange, businesses will share their knowledge and expertise with students who serve as interns or otherwise partner with them.
“We will use this building to train students in careers that will shape the future,” Fitzgerald said.
Peter Rye, president and CEO of Brentwood Industries, a Reading-based plastic fabrication company, welcomed Alvernia’s efforts to build the local economy through entrepreneurship and community partnerships.
“For Alvernia now to launch this program in the City of Reading is really an extraordinary thing,” Rye said. “We need engineering talent here in our community, and businesses are willing to share their space and knowledge with Alvernia students. We’re seeing the revitalization of Reading starting right here at CollegeTowne.”
Reading Mayor Eddie Moran said economic development cannot occur without the backing of education. He thanked Alvernia for its ongoing presence in the city, citing the university’s South Reading Youth Initiative, an after-school program that helps first and second graders at two city schools, and the Reading Collegiate Scholar’s Program, which provides four-year scholarships for qualifying Reading High School students.
“These are the kinds of partnerships we need,” Moran said. “We cannot talk about economic development without discussing the important role education plays in developing future professionals to sustain that growth.”
County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach agreed, saying the programs Alvernia will offer in downtown Reading are needed for the city and the county to prosper.
“The real power of education occurs when we tie theory to reality,” he said.
Leinbach gave assurance that he and commissioners Kevin S. Barnhardt and Michael S. Rivera stand with the university in its CollegeTowne efforts.
“We are here to do what we can do,” Leinbach said. “This is a very bright light in the City of Reading, in the heart of Berks County.”
University officials spoke of the speed with which the CollegeTowne program is advancing, and thanked city and county officials for their cooperation and assistance.
“I can’t believe it was only 15 short, but long COVID months that we set out on this journey that is CollegeTowne,” said Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate provost and vice president and chief executive officer for the O’Pake Institute. “We are moving quickly in our effort to build a better downtown Reading and Berks County.”
Alvernia, which weeks ago welcomed its largest-ever group of incoming freshmen, made its Collegetowne plans public in December.
“Reading CollegeTowne is moving ahead at a rate we could have never dreamed of,” Loyack added.
Alvernia University’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship and Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center have teamed up to advance entrepreneurship and the redevelopment of downtown Reading.
The universities will work together to encourage students, faculty, staff and community members to develop and operate progressive, future-based businesses. Entrepreneurs will be educated on the nature of free enterprise and will benefit through curriculum and experience-based activities that will enhance the regional economic climate.
“Collaboration is the cornerstone for the Reading CollegeTowne model, and working together, colleges and universities are stronger, particularly in securing funding to support academic programming and community engagement,” said Alvernia President John R. Loyack. “This partnership with Kutztown and the Small Business
Development Center is a wonderful example of the positive economic impact Berks County higher education institutions can have on the revitalization of downtown Reading.”
Alvernia announced Reading CollegeTowne, a strategic model for economic development in downtown Reading in December. It assumed ownership on June 30 of a building at 401 Penn Street, which it plans to renovate to include classrooms and labs, loft-style student housing, eating facilities, retail outlets and other operations.
The building, formerly home to I-Lead Charter School, will serve as the centerpiece of the CollegeTowne initiative, and will house a student-centered business incubator to be run by the O’Pake Institute in partnership with other organizations, including Kutztown’s SBDC, SCORE Berks Schuylkill Chapter and Lehigh Valley Angel Investors.
Those and other partnerships will form a framework of economic groups that will work together to promote entrepreneurship and business growth, explained Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate provost and vice president and chief executive officer for the O’Pake Institute.
“The ever-growing O’Pake partnership network and collaboration between Berks County’s higher education institutions will make Reading and southeastern Pennsylvania an attractive location for entrepreneurs,” Ridley said.
Sonya Smith, associate state direct of program and policy at the Pennsylvania SBDC who is working with Kutztown University’s SBDC, applauded the partnership.
“The joint partnership of universities and community organizations create pathways for students to valuable experiential learning by supporting startups and established businesses in our community,” Smith said. “There are a variety of motivators for encouraging student community involvement, including promoting civic engagement, student learning/real-world experience and a service tool for community organizations. With this new agreement, we at the Kutztown University SBDC are focused on seeing this model through fruition, for the betterment of the students, our small business community, the downtown Reading area and both Alvernia and Kutztown University’s commitment to this initiative.”
Summertime, and the living isn’t so easy. Public pools are closed, travel is restricted, and what the coming school year will look like is in question.
For student athletes returning to class, the coronavirus pandemic is impacting them at every level.
While many institutions are canceling the fall 2020 sports season, some are giving it the green light, albeit with new safety precautions in place.
Dr. Jeffrey Zlotnick, a sports medicine physician and specialist in concussions with Penn State Health St. Joseph, and the designated physician for both Reading’s Alvernia University and Albright College.
He shares the role with Dr. Christopher Schumacher, an orthopedic surgeon, also with Penn State Health St. Joseph. Zlotnick says some sports are safer than others when it comes to the COVID-19 risk, such as those conducted outdoors.
“You’ve got the breeze and the sunshine to mitigate the spread.”
But close contact sports such as wrestling, where athletes are breathing directly on each other, are risky.
Competitive cheerleading increases the chances of virus transmission as well, according to Zlotnick, because is a lot of physical contact between athletes during pyramids and tricks.
Soccer, however, is considered low-risk because the ball is touched less by hands.
Other low-risk sports include track and field and golf.
As the number of new cases in young people rises, the concern for high school and college athletes also rises.
“It’s impossible for wrestlers to stay six feet apart or to wear masks,” he said, “so how do we keep them safe?”
Masks are proven to reduce the spread of coronavirus and are safe to wear during exercise, according to Zlotnick.
“It’s a myth that oxygen levels drop,” he said. “Studies have shown that oxygen levels don’t drop when people wear masks while exercising. Doctors perform intense surgeries for hours on end with masks on. They would be passing out if it were true that masks cause oxygen levels to drop.”
So far, there has not been a significant spread of COVID-19 through sports, according to Zlotnick. But asymptomatic carriers are the biggest spreaders, he said, and young people involved in high contact sports could unknowingly be carriers, spreading the virus to other athletes who then go home and expose their families to it.
“This is all new,” he said, “We are learning as we go. The jury is still out on contact sports.”
For now, Zlotnick advises athletes to bring their own equipment to games, including helmets and water bottles.
Don’t share anything,” he said. “Bring hand sanitizer. Don’t touch your face. Be aware of people who are coughing or who appear sick.”
He also advises athletes to wipe down their equipment when they get home, take off their clothes, and shower as soon as possible.
Locally, colleges are consulting with each other about what should be best practices moving forward in order to keep their athletes safe, Zlotnick said.
“The worry is, are people getting cocky, now that the numbers are down in Pennsylvania.” he said, and that could lead to a resurgence in cases as is happening in other states.
Florida, which reopened in early May, had people swarming back to the beaches and restaurants immediately. The number of coronavirus cases there rebounded quickly, according to The Washington Post, making Florida the latest epicenter of the virus.
“People have to remember that we are only in the second inning of a nine inning game,” said Zlotnick. “Don’t fall into the trap of ‘If he doesn’t wear a mask, I don’t have to wear a mask.’ Every time we think we have a handle on this, it throws us a curve. The virus keeps on mutating. It is basically a cold virus and mutates like one.”
A vaccine could be six months away, and isn’t a sure thing because of how quickly COVID-19 mutates.
Just like with the flu, Zlotnick said, a new vaccine for the coronavirus could be needed every year.
So what will sports look like for spectators this fall? Zlotnick guesses the games will be “crowdless,” and live streamed.
Despite all the challenges to playing sports during a pandemic, Zlotnick believes that the many benefits make them worth it.
In fact, both playing and watching sports is good for our emotional, physical and social health, according to a 2001 study by Murray State University in Kentucky.
Zlotnick, a die-hard baseball fan, feels the effects on his mood off the current dearth of professional sports to watch.
“I’m going through some real baseball withdrawal right now,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a Phillies fan, of course, but I’m unfortunately also an Orioles fan, even though they always lose.”
While fall sports may look a little different for both fans and student athletes this year, the games will, in most cases, go on.
Alvernia University moved a step closer to making its ambitious CollegeTowne project in downtown Reading a reality.
University officials selected the Lancaster County-based firms RLPS Architects and Warfel Construction to design and renovate a property at 401 Penn Street in downtown Reading.
The five-story building, which formerly was home to CNA Insurance and more recently to I-LEAD Charter School, will include classrooms and labs, loft-style student housing, dining facilities, retail outlets and other operations, and serve as the centerpiece of the CollegeTowne initiative.
Alvernia plans to base its business, e-sports, communications and engineering programs there. It also will be home to a student-centered business incubator to be run by the university’s rebranded O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship.
Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate provost and vice president and chief executive officer for the O’Pake Institute, said the business incubator will partner with various economic groups that will work together to promote entrepreneurship and business growth.
The idea, Ridley said, is to help jump-start the downtown economy.
“What happens is that now you have college students living downtown, and you need restaurants and coffee shops and entertainment,” Ridley said. “And you begin to make this economic engine start happening.”
Despite uncertain conditions due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, Alvernia University on Thursday announced the latest initiative of Reading CollegeTowne, the university’s sweeping effort to help revitalize downtown Reading.
Alvernia is partnering with Lehigh Valley Angel Investors (LVAI), a group of Lehigh Valley and Reading-area entrepreneurs who provide mentoring and resources for business startups. Together, the organizations will develop a regional support operation for early-stage entrepreneurs.
The partnership is part of the university’s newly created and Reading-based business incubator, housed on Alvernia’s campus in the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship.
Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate provost and vice president and chief executive officer for the O’Pake Institute, further explained the purpose of the partnership and how it can benefit students and area entrepreneurs.
Plans call for the Alvernia-IVAI initiative to operate from a building at 401 Penn Street in Reading that was previously home to I-LEAD Charter School. Alvernia is finalizing a sale and purchase agreement for the building, formerly known as the CNA building.
The centerpiece of the Reading CollegeTowne project, the 260,000-square-foot facility will be home to classrooms, student dorms, eating facilities and other operations. Alvernia plans to base its business, communications and engineering programs there.
After one local college announced it would close its campus because of COVID-19, others quickly followed suit.
It was the beginning of the local higher education response to the rising concerns over the virus that sent students across the state out of their dorms and classrooms and into online instruction for the remainder of the spring semester.
The move led many students and families to wonder if they would get some type of refund for losing access to housing, dining services and other amenities they already paid for.
So far, it’s a mixed bag, with most offering partial refunds of some amenities, but not tuition.
Kutztown University is offering partial refunds based on guidance it received from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, according to the university’s office of student accounts. The university calculated a 50% refund of selected fees for the current semester that it would send to students the week of April 6.
The university is refunding those fees that are no longer available to students because its face-to-face operations have closed, and for the majority of students, residence halls have closed.
However, the university is not refunding tuition, as full tuition costs will remain in place, based on a 50% face-to-face and 50% online ratio. The change in instruction does not meet the distance education requirement of 80% online or more, the university’s office said.
“The financial impact of refunds will be significant for the university,” said Matt Santos, vice president of University Relations at Kutztown University, in a statement. “We plan to issue refunds for 50% of the spring semester fees for housing, dining, and select auxiliary services. This equates to about $9.5 million in lost revenue.”
That means the university will have to dip into its cash reserves.
Because of the timing of the COVID-19 virus and resulting campus shutdown of these operations, the university won’t be able to reduce its expenses at the same rate of the revenue losses, Santos said. The university will need to use cash reserves, previously designated for deferred maintenance and building renovations, in order to fill the anticipated gap.
As the university asked students to move out, they’ve vacated most of the residence halls, he added. After letting the halls sit vacant for a few days, the university will deep clean them in preparation for their next use.
“We host a significant number of overnight campus and conferences during the summer, and at this time, there is no change to the summer schedule,” Santos said.
Lafayette College in Easton is working on a process to prorate room and board fees where appropriate and hopes to have the details worked out in early April, said Scott Morse, senior director of communications at Lafayette College, in a statement.
Alvernia University in Reading will seek state and/or federal reimbursement for students if funds become available, said Glynis Fitzgerald, senior vice president and provost, and John McCloskey, senior vice president and chief of staff.
In a statement, they said they would continuously monitor the situation.
According to its website, Lehigh University in Bethlehem is offering partial refunds for housing, dining and parking services on a prorated basis for undergraduate students who are not parking on campus, living in residence halls or using meal plans. Undergraduate students will have the ability to request a refund or apply the credit to future bills. Refunds do not apply to off-campus rentals or facilities that the university does not own or operate, such as SouthSide Commons.
The university began online instruction on March 16 and began prorating the refunds from that time, said Patricia Johnson, vice president of finance and administration at Lehigh University.
The university will have some cost savings on cleaning costs and general maintenance costs since many buildings on campus are empty, she said.
“They are not big savings,” Johnson said.
Utilities have to be kept on in the buildings, but other elements, such as air conditioning, can be turned off.
She said it is too early to determine what the possible financial impact to the university would be.
The university is not refunding tuition because it is offering online instruction.
“We placed some resources and provided training to faculty to use Zoom because many of them had never used it before,” Johnson said.
Overall, she said the university staff and faculty appear to be adjusting very well, noting the university converted to online instruction within a week.
“Some of our professors seem engaged, thinking about different ways of teaching,” Johnson said.
The university could delay graduation, currently set for May 18. Potentially, the university may push that date to August, she said.
Meanwhile, in a message to students at East Stroudsburg University, Kenneth Long, vice president of administration and finance said the university would issue pro-rated reductions of housing, dining, general, and parking and transportation charges on students’ accounts during the week of March 29.
The university is prorating the refunds based on the number of days it would not provide these services, as of the last day of ESU’s original spring break, March 13, estimated at 50%.
After five months of talks, Alvernia University and I-LEAD, Inc. have signed a purchase and sale agreement that will allow university to take over a building at 401 Penn Street in downtown Reading.
Currently, I-LEAD Inc., a Philadelphia-based educational management company, owns the building and operates the I-LEAD charter school from the location.
Reading’s Alvernia will use the building as a key part of the downtown campus it is developing, known as the CollegeTowne Initiative. The initiative aims to engage Alvernia students with the downtown Reading community and drive economic development in the city.
Completing the purchase is the final step before ownership of the building, which Alvernia plans to assume in June. One of the first programs to move into the building’s first-floor will be the student-centered business incubator named the O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship. The building is named after the late Berks County state Sen. Michael O’Pake.
“Reading CollegeTowne will be the focal point of Alvernia’s expansion and growth for the next decade,” said John R. Loyack, president of Alvernia University. “We are ready and eager to begin the next phase in Alvernia’s future.”
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