Home > Uncategorized > COVID Crises Causing Collapse of College Majors, Grad Schools… and Main Street Businesses in College Towns

COVID Crises Causing Collapse of College Majors, Grad Schools… and Main Street Businesses in College Towns

October 27, 2020

The NYTimes Shawn Hubler describes the devastating impact of COVID on college campuses across the country in “Colleges Slash Budgets in the Pandemic with “Nothing Off Limits“, her article that appeared in today’s newspaper. But as a key paragraph in the article notes, many colleges were already on shaky ground:

Even before the pandemic, colleges and universities were grappling with a growing financial crisis, brought on by years of shrinking state support, declining enrollment, and student concerns with skyrocketing tuition and burdensome debt. Now the coronavirus has amplified the financial trouble systemwide, though elite, well-endowed colleges seem sure to weather it with far less pain.

“We have been in aggressive recession management for 12 years — probably more than 12 years,” Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, told his board of governors this month as they voted to forge ahead with a proposal to merge a half-dozen small schools into two academic entities.

Under-enrolled and underfunded state colleges are taking the biggest hits because they typically enroll students who do not have the resources to attend a private college and lack endowments that might make it possible to backfill lost tuition income or the added burdens that colleges are assuming during the pandemic. As Ms. Hubler notes:

The American Council on Education and other higher education organizations estimated that the virus would cost institutions more than $120 billion in increased student aid, lost housing fees, forgone sports revenue, public health measures, learning technology and other adjustments.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, liberal arts programs and colleges that serve low income students are suffering the most.

Most of the suspensions are in social sciences and humanities programs where the universities — rather than outside funders such as corporations, foundations and the federal government — typically underwrite the multiyear financial aid packages offered to doctoral students. University officials say the suspensions are necessary to ensure their strapped budgets can continue supporting students already in Ph.D. pipelines….

As it is, the pandemic has had an outsize impact on less affluent students: A survey of 292 private, nonprofit schools released this month by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities reported a nearly 8 percent decrease in enrollment among students who receive federal Pell Grants.

And in the aggregate, these budget cuts have resulted in the loss of roughly 300,000 jobs— from administrators to janitors and far too many professors! And the cuts will have a ripple effect beyond the employment of those on campus. In Hanover NH where I live, the partial closure of Dartmouth’s campus has resulted in the closure of several restaurants and small businesses who depended on college students, weekend visits from parents and alumni, and college employees to keep them afloat. And I know that the threatened closure of one of Vermont’s small campuses sent shock waves through the community it would impact.

We DO need institutions that provide opportunities for learning…. one of the questions that will face us in the coming years is whether those institutions should be traditional colleges or some new form of learning.

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