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The fallout of Covid-19 on higher education institutions

The coronavirus has created numerous financial and logistical problems all over the country. Perhaps the most stark and intense issues have appeared on university campuses as many institutions have been forced to furlough staff and cut programs because of the virus’ wide reach.

College campuses present a particularly challenging environment to combat the virus. A major reason for this is that college students have great autonomy and cannot be reined in as easily as secondary school students.

Further, many programs require in-class participation. For example, labs for science majors like neuroscience and biology need to be held in person for the type of hands-on learning which cannot be replicated by online studies.

Sadly, we are seeing many instances of universities struggling to mitigate the fallout, with some having to implement furloughs and budget cuts, remove programs, or even close their doors permanently.

Colleges making difficult budget decisions

One of the earliest universities to enact layoffs was the University of Akron in Ohio. Unfortunately, the pandemic saw enrollment decline sharply, hitting the institution’s bottom line hard. As a result, the university eliminated 178, including 96 unionized faculty.

In total, the cuts made represented around 10 percent of the university’s staff. Like many institutions faced with this decision, the changes were made in an effort to balance the budget. Today, the school is facing a $65 million budget deficit and scrambling to find ways to avoid further cutbacks.

Another troubling round of budget cuts were recently reported by William Paterson University of New Jersey. The university is scheduled to cut 26 percent of its full-time faculty positions as the it faces a budget deficit of nearly $20 million for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Dire impacts to university programs

One of the major fallouts directly resulting from the pandemic is the reduced number of enrollments on college campuses all across the country.

The College of Saint Rose has cut more than 15 majors and a total of six master’s degrees from their program. These are not fringe degrees, either. The majors cut include chemistry, math, and music, as the school has needed to make adjustments in response to enrollment constraints.

Finally, another case for economic uncertainty on campus comes from UNC-Chapel Hill, which plans to cut personnel costs by three percent in the coming months. In addition, the university will also eliminate nearly 15 percent in operating costs over the next two years to account for the losses directly resulting in pandemic difficulties.

UNC’s Chancellor, Kevin Guskiewicz, has called for unity and perseverance for many during this tough time. The decisions to cut back and live within the university’s means is a difficult one, but it is one which must be taken in order to ensure the education of a generation of young Americans.

The road ahead

The pandemic’s affects will be long lasting and ultimately reframe the way institutions manage operations and curriculum. However, despite vaccine distribution troubles, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. Only time will tell if the pandemic has shaped the road ahead for the better.

Find out how Wellfleet helped the American College Health Foundation (ACHF) raise more than $28,000 to help support institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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