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SUNY Cortland Feels Financial Pinch of Pandemic, Hopes for Safe and Successful Fall Semester


Higher education has been feeling the financial strain and logistical challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and SUNY Cortland is no exception.  Senator Chuck Schumer met privately with President Erik Bitterbaum Wednesday to talk about higher education relief in previous and upcoming legislation. 

He says their $6.2 million allocation in the CARES Act relief package was helpful given the unexpected expenses.

"When our students left in March, we had to refund room, board, and other fees.  That came to over $10 million for our college.  We have gone deep into our reserves.  I think higher education in general, as well as K-12, also needs that assistance."

Bitterbaum says Schumer told him that Congress is working on a series of other bills that have additional aid, but lawmakers were nowhere near a deal before leaving for recess.  Meanwhile, Bitterbaum says they're preparing for the return of students starting Saturday on a staggered schedule.  They've purchased 20,000 reusable masks for students, faculty, and staff, and have redesigned classrooms, installed plexiglass shields, and added other protective measures when classes begin August 31.

"It's been hundreds of little decisons that we hope will be correct so we can bring our students back safetly and make it until November.  We did make some changes to the schedule; students will not be off on Labor Day, nor will they have a fall break.  We want to go continuously because we want to keep them here."

Hopefully, he says, until Thanksgiving.  That’s similar to SU, where the last two weeks of the semester will be held remotely.  But much of the responsibility for staying healthy falls to students.  Bitterbaum says student volunteers will serve as mask ambassadors.

"They're not to be like police, but to be cordial, and remind people to distance and wear their masks.  If we can get them into this social norming process in the first few weeks of class, we think that will be very helpful."

He says he’s hopeful, but knows there have been mixed results around the country where colleges have had to shut down due to COVID outbreaks.  It remains to be seen if there will be any infections from a large gathering Wednesday night on the SU campus that prompted an angry response from officials.