A Message from the President: Continuing Teaching and Learning Safely for Spring 2021 (12-3-20)

Dear Students, Families, and Friends,

I sincerely hope that the Thanksgiving break provided a brief, yet healthy and restful, interlude for you. I have been reminded that even in the midst of these uncertain and challenging times, we can remain thankful that God’s grace is sufficient and His mercy is everlasting. I was particularly thankful for David’s simple and elegant assurance in Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

This promise is especially important to all of us as we formally announce that APU intends to remain in remote learning for Spring 2021. This decision is based upon several key factors:

  • Given the acute surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations throughout Los Angeles County, which was already in the highest risk category of “Purple,” the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) communicated at its most-recent November 24 telebriefing continued limitations of any full return to campus strategies for institutions of higher education until further notice.
  • APU actively participated in a robust academic coalition of private colleges and universities that requested consideration for a 2021 safe return to campus from the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Those substantive and engaged efforts were well received; however, due to the COVID-19 surge, those requests were not further processed. They may be considered in a new, limited waiver program, intended for implementation through LACDPH once the surge of cases reduces. We will continue to update our community as additional information regarding this process becomes available.
  • The APU Return to Campus Task Force has diligently and tirelessly worked to develop plans for all potential options we might face for Spring 2021 that could increase the number of students on campus. Despite the inability to implement these options, the work of the Task Force deserves much credit and thanks for placing APU in the most advantageous position should we be able to return. The work of the Task Force will be of great use when we do return to campus later in 2021.
  • Although deeply difficult and requiring significant sacrifice for many in the APU Community, the fiscal strategies to address the impacts of COVID-19 with remote learning during Fall 2020 were successful. Furloughs, voluntary salary and vacation reductions, temporary limits on retirement benefits, and the generous financial support of our friends and donors enable APU to finish Fall 2020 addressing our revenue shortfalls. This is an extraordinary achievement that was only possible with the full engagement and sacrifice of our APU Community.

APU is responding to the recent LACDPH directives in these ways:

Current LACDPH Stay at Home Order. This recent order asks individuals to stay at home as much as possible and imposes a daily curfew between 10 p.m.-5 a.m until December 21, 2020. Those who travel out of the state are advised to quarantine for 14 days upon return. We urge our community to heed this request if you travel over the holidays. In addition, we encourage as much remote work as possible while still maintaining essential campus functions, practicing appropriate health and safety measures, and delivering on APU’s unique value proposition.

Spring 2021 Planning. In order to comply with the Stay at Home order and reduce the surge in cases, LACDPH is unwilling to expand campus access and privileges. Therefore, the Spring 2021 semester will follow the Fall 2020 remote learning framework with limited campus access for those students who do not have viable housing alternatives, students receiving training in programs essential to pandemic recovery, and some athletes permitted for outdoor conditioning regimens. You will receive additional updates from offices across campus over the next few weeks in preparation for Spring 2021 remote learning.

APU Fiscal Impact. Like the Fall 2020 semester, there is an estimated $9-13M loss of revenue for Spring 2021. In addition, there are continued Return to Campus expenses for additional cleaning, new technology, and health services per public health guidelines, totaling $6-9M for the year.

Over the next few weeks, the President’s Cabinet will conduct a focused strategic analysis of the budgets and shifting workload of each Division to determine the necessary steps to bridge the financial gap, while maintaining the optimal University experience for our students. The following strategies will be considered and employed:

  • Suspension of travel through June 30, 2021
  • Voluntary salary reductions and scholarship donations from contracted administrators and faculty
  • Reduced faculty research and administrative units, enabling increased full-time faculty teaching units and decreased reliance on adjunct faculty
  • Increased course enrollments by 10-15%
  • Utilization of all vacation hours by the limited number of faculty with remaining historic, accrued vacation hours encouraged to improve the University’s financial status
  • Strategic furloughs and unavoidable layoffs

Although extremely difficult, these strategic steps should enable us to complete this academic year in a satisfactory financial position. This requirement to remain in remote learning for another semester calls us to continue to dig deep to make a similarly strong commitment to preserving the value-added proposition of a Christ-centered APU education.

As a reminder, updates will continue to be posted to the Destination APU website. A recent update includes a COVID tracker to apprise our community regarding COVID cases within APU. Please continue to be in prayer for the health and welfare of our APU Community and the larger communities in which we live.

I remain hopeful that the Spring 2021 semester will be our last in full remote learning. Promise of the coronavirus vaccine and strategic delivery of it to the nation with continued safe social practices should enable us to plan an eventual 2021 safe return to campus when appropriate. I encourage each of us to fully recall and claim the promises that God has given when discouragement and weariness often settle in—as David himself, who needed courage in the midst of discouragement, reminds us in Psalm 31:24: “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”

With gratitude,

Paul W. Ferguson, Ph.D., DABT, President