September 8, 2020
Dear AUCA Students and families,
I want to welcome you to AUCA for the fall semester of the 2020-21 academic year. To all of you who lost loved ones in the past months to the COVID pandemic, I extend my deepest condolences. While fortunately there have been no deaths to date among our faculty and staff, a great many--about 15%--experienced varied degrees of illness over the summer. My wife Lilia and I were only able to return to Kyrgyzstan last Friday the 21st after more than five months outside of the country. We packed bags for a 10 day trip over Spring Break in March, and found ourselves unable to come home. But we have been fortunate in that we have made it through this period fully healthy. It feels good to be back home!
I am well aware of the financial difficulties caused for so many of our AUCA families by the pandemic. Many students have asked me why AUCA is not reducing its tuition this year as they have the impression that AUCA will save a lot of money not using our building. Many believe they do not receive the same quality of education teaching classes on-line as opposed to in-person. These are important questions that deserve honest answers that I will now address.
The total operating budget for AUCA in the coming academic year we expect to be about $11 million. For a university including about 1500 students, 14 undergraduate departments and 9 M.A. programs, I was amazed when I first arrived last year about the value that AUCA produces on this budget, including the fact that most undergraduates receive U.S. degrees from Bard College as well as the Kyrgyz degree from AUCA. I view AUCA as one of the great values in higher education globally. There is no "fat" in our budget.
Contrary to the view of many, AUCA has very small budget savings of less than 5% in going on line. More than 80% of our budget is allocated to financial assistance to students and faculty and staff salaries. In our June Board of Directors meeting, we looked very hard at the question of lowering tuition for the 2020-2021 academic year in light of financial difficulties. We decided not to do so and instead the decision was to use any savings we expected from being on-line in the Fall to allocate for significantly more financial aid for our students. This decision was based on our judgement that increasing financial aid would be a more effective way to help those students and families most in need. We also extended the deadline for financial aid applications so more students could take advantage of the fact we would allocate more money for financial aid.
There is no perfect solution to this dilemma. Personally I will regret deeply that any potential incoming freshman or continuing sophomores, juniors, and seniors may not be able to enroll this Fall because of recent financial hardship. The worry for the AUCA leadership as with all administrators of colleges and universities around the world is that many of their students will not enroll in the fall thus causing severe budget shortfalls. The reality is that more institutions of higher learning around the world will go bankrupt this year than in decades.
At AUCA we are doing everything we can to ensure that as many students who are qualified to enroll will enroll, especially upperclassmen who have already made major financial and time investments in getting their AUCA degree. But at the same time we must strive to secure the financial sustainability of AUCA for years and decades to come. Faculty and staff have worked hard over the summer enrolling in many workshops and seminars to improve the quality of AUCA on-line teaching. We have also allocated more funds to help students to have adequate equipment and connectivity to enhance their on-line learning.
I hope this brief explanation gives you more understanding about how we are trying to navigate these most challenging times. But I think that I can speak for all faculty and staff at AUCA about how happy and excited we are to start this new year next week. I wish peace, health, and prosperity for all, and will be happy to address any further questions or suggestions you may have.