Can you lend me some hand wipes?
A conversation with John Jordan, Chief Financial Officer for Northwest University
Field Notes:  Introduction  /  Part 1  /  Part 2  /  Part 3  /  Part 4
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Northwest University sign, brick planter with floweres
Northwest University, Kirkland, Washington
Over the last several months, our NAC national higher education team has talked with administrators from colleges and universities around the country. What we’ve learned about higher ed’s response to COVID-19 is that every institution has a unique story. The one constant has been an exorbitant amount of planning for fall semester.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with the CFO of Northwest University (NU), John Jordan. NU is a private 2,000-student Christian liberal arts institution in Kirkland, Washington.
NU temporarily closed its doors at the end of March, and they are fortunate to have had no confirmed cases of COVID-19 when this post was written. Here’s some of my conversation with John:
Ron: John, what are some of the ideas you are utilizing this fall to respond to COVID-19?
John: After much summer planning we are implementing a concept called, “HyFlex” teaching. All classrooms have been retrofitted with video technology to help remote students. Students online will all be on the TV monitor to allow faculty better visual access. Depending on the size of the class, some students will be remote, and some will be on campus.
Ron: What about your on-campus housing?
John: All of our residence halls will be single occupancy. Our quads will be converted to doubles. Our student apartments will have normal occupancy and we’ve contracted a hotel close by to house students.
Ron: What effects are you seeing so far in terms of enrollment?
John: Interestingly, our enrollment looks stable, but the demographics are a bit skewed. We seem to have fewer new students, but the number of returning students exceeds our goal. What we are seeing is that students want to come to campus, but parents are hesitant.
Ron: You are the CFO of the university so you must be tracking costs?
John: Oh, yes. Costs are much higher than expected. Just simple things have been a real challenge to purchase such as masks, plexiglass for protection, and hand sanitizer. What has been horrendously difficult for us to acquire in adequate quantities is simple hand wipes. Where do you find hand wipes for a whole campus?
Ron: Any big surprises so far?
John: Yes, a peer institution in Seattle just announced that they were going completely remote this fall. Just weeks before the start of school. And this is after stating they would be at 90% occupancy in their residence halls for the fall. That is how unpredictable this summer has been!
Ron: Any advice for your fellow higher educational financial leaders?
John: Two things: If you want to carry out the mission of your institution, stay VERY flexible, and be open to change.
At the end of our interview, John and I spent time lamenting the Seattle Mariners’ win/loss record and not being able to see a game live—a few minutes to take his mind off of what has been a particularly intense summer.
With the financial pressures on private institutions around the nation even before this pandemic, the NAC higher education team gives a shout-out to our colleagues addressing these challenges.