Students walk at the UW-Eau Claire campus Wednesday. The pandemic has spurred millions in costs for UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout, including contact tracing, testing, re-engineering of classrooms, technology costs and more factors, university officials say. Both campuses have offset the losses through budget reductions and furloughs. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

EAU CLAIRE — The COVID-19 pandemic has cost UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout over $11 million each in losses over the last year, university officials say, though both universities have managed to offset those costs with budget reductions and furloughs.

As of mid-February, UW-Eau Claire’s total COVID-19 losses sat at $11.8 million, said Chancellor James Schmidt and university officials at a February campus briefing.

Through budget reductions, savings and intermittent employee furloughs, the campus pinned down more than $7 million in savings during the current fiscal year, according to Schmidt’s and campus official’s February briefing.

The university has a pandemic-related deficit of about $4.8 million.

UW-Stout has sustained about $11.5 million in pandemic-related financial losses to date, “either through increased costs or lost revenue,” said Doug Mell, special assistant to the chancellor at UW-Stout. The university saved about $4.5 million through employee furloughs, reduced travel and other savings, so its COVID-related deficit is about $7 million, Mell noted.

Pandemic costs stacked up

Despite UW-Eau Claire receiving more than $6.25 million in state and federal funding to counteract the pandemic, the university has weathered millions in unplanned expenses since last March, Schmidt and campus officials said in the February address.

Several virus-related factors drove the universities’ losses this year.

Pandemic expenses at UW-Eau Claire stemmed from mass COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, purchases of personal protective equipment, re-engineering of classroom spaces and extra technology costs, among other expenses, said Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Grace Crickette.

“There’s many different types of losses that have occurred because of COVID-19,” Crickette said Wednesday.

The same expenses have beset UW-Stout. Testing and contact tracing alone has cost the university about $1.2 million so far, Mell said, with another several months of the spring semester left to go.

UW-Eau Claire also fielded some losses from a 2.3% drop in enrollment compared to the previous year, Schmidt and campus officials said in the address.

UW-Stout also posted a 5% drop in enrollment in fall 2020, according to preliminary numbers from the UW System.

Both universities also had to return some general purpose revenue to the UW System after Gov. Tony Evers last year ordered Wisconsin state agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets due to the pandemic.

UW-Eau Claire returned $2.3 million to the UW System, and UW-Stout returned $1.6 million, Mell and Crickette said.

UW-Eau Claire’s approximate $4.8 million deficit means “we have to leverage our reserves,” Crickette said, referring to reserve university funds from “various sources.”

“We’re fortunate we have that money in savings,” Crickette added.

Schmidt in February noted that UW-Eau Claire is looking for an enrollment bounceback this fall. At the February briefing, campus officials said student applications for fall 2021 were up 53%, “thanks in part to the UW System’s central application service,” according to the university’s Integrated Marketing and Communications.

Though both universities implemented staff furloughs during the current fiscal year, neither plan to continue furloughs into the next fiscal year, Mell and Crickette said.

Both UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout plan to hold in-person classes this fall.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

Sarah Seifert is the L-T's education and health reporter. She has worked as a journalist in the Chippewa Valley since 2017 and joined the L-T in 2019. Get in touch at sarah.seifert@ecpc.com or on Twitter @sarahaseifert.