Jill Haley: Can colleges survive the pandemic? | TheUnion.com
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Jill Haley: Can colleges survive the pandemic?

Jill Haley
Columnist

March 2020 brought the end to college classes as COVID-19 began its trek across the United States. Students returned home to complete the semester online as campuses closed their doors to all but essential employees. With the assumption that the virus would be under control by fall, colleges tried to absorb their revenue losses and concentrate on re-opening.

With the virus still raging, colleges have largely decided to return to remote learning or limit the number of students allowed on their campuses. A few are still planning on fully opening, but with continued rising COVID cases they acknowledge that could change.

Colleges are seeing a drop in enrollment as students opt out of large tuition fees and stay closer to home to study at their local community colleges. Colleges will also take a huge hit financially from the loss of revenue generated from dorms, athletics, food services, parking, health fees, etc.

Public universities, such as the University of California’s nine campuses, receive state funding but will suffer the loss of international students and money generated from Pac-12 sporting events. The chancellor of UC Berkeley reported last week that that campus would suffer a projected loss of $340 million due to the pandemic.

Even before the pandemic, educational leaders such as the late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, predicted a huge drop in college attendance due to an aging population and a move to online learning.

Colleges and universities have announced deep cuts to offset the loss of revenue, with the University of Michigan trimming their faculty by more than 40%. The news this week that the most selective college in the country, Stanford University, was making cuts to its staff by permanently laying off 208 employees sent shock waves through the college community.

I addition, many students have demanded a reduction in tuition while also asking for an increase in financial aid due to family financial difficulties, furthering the financial crisis on college campuses.

What many in the field are asking is, “can colleges survive?” With revenues down and a student population dwindling, many predict the end of some colleges entirely. Certainly, smaller colleges without large endowments are in danger of closing especially in places like the south and the mid-west.

The Boston Globe reported that “nationwide, 110 colleges and universities are now in peril because of the financial impact of the virus.” More and more small liberal arts colleges are considering merging with larger institutions to stay afloat and large public universities are considering closing some of their campuses.

There is also a possibility that some students will never return to in-person classes even after the epidemic is over, as they become used to remote learning.

Even before the pandemic, educational leaders such as the late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, predicted a huge drop in college attendance due to an aging population and a move to online learning. And while it is too early to know what the true impact of this crisis will be, it seems likely we will see some colleges shut their doors or merge with larger institutions to survive.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.


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