A Reckoning In Higher Education: Will There Be Campus Life After Covid-19?

When colleges sent out offers of admissions to millions of students earlier this spring, I told incoming freshmen to take the upcoming academic year off.

With the fall semester just weeks away, I’m doubling down on that advice.

In a year or two, students’ current college of choice may not be in business. MacMurray College in Illinois is announced in May that it is closing after 174 years, making it the first higher education victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sad as MacMurray’s fate is, it won’t be alone. More than a third of the 937 private universities examined by Edmit are in “low” financial health, meaning they will run out of money within six years. That’s twice as many “low” scores as a year ago.

Furthermore, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has asked the Department of Education to stop publishing its report that identifies colleges at risk of bankruptcy, over fears the information will scare students away and hasten a school’s demise.

At public colleges, things are not much better. From 2008 to 2017, state funding for public colleges fell $9 billion, or 16 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Now, due to Covid-19, states have no choice but to cut even further their funding for higher education.

Cash Cows at Risk: Foreign Students and Football

Covid-19’s damage to college budgets is conspicuous in two areas: foreign students and football.

Overall, 6 percent of all U.S. college students are from foreign countries, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. U.S. schools desire foreign students because they generally pay full tuition rates. Covid-19, though, has shut off foreign students’ ability to travel to the U.S. And if they don’t show up this fall, it’s likely they won’t ever enroll; schools are therefore losing out on four years of revenue, not just one.

Colleges and universities will also lose billions of dollars in revenue this year if college sports are cancelled or curtailed. NCAA’s annual budget exceeds $18 billion, and most of that flows to the schools. For many schools, their sports programs account for 60 percent of their budgets.

Without these twin cash cows, both academic and athletic programs will be cut at hundreds of institutions, resulting in layoffs for faculty and staff and millions of college dreams dashed or deferred.

Why Pay Full Price for Zoom Classes?

No sports on campus is just the start. For millions of students this fall, there will be no campus at all.

California State University, the nation’s largest four-year public university system with 480,000 students, has announced that all 23 of its campuses will be closed for the fall semester; students will stay at home, attending classes online.

Having to live at home and stare at a laptop isn’t appealing to many college-bound students.  Simultaneously, many worry they can no longer afford to attend due to their parents’ sudden financial troubles.

Indeed, 44 percent of students worry about their ability to enroll or stay enrolled in college, according to bestcolleges.com, and 17 percent of high school seniors have decided not to go to college in the fall. Given the choice of attending remotely or not at all, many students are making reasonable decisions to take the year off.

The Reckoning

The American Council on Education says college enrollment declines of 15 percent this fall will create a $45 billion drop in tuition revenue nationwide. Higher education employs 4 million people, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Impending budget cuts could force hundreds of thousands into unemployment this fall – the last thing the economy needs right now.

Far more than faculty and staff will lose their incomes; entire towns and the businesses and landlords that populate them depend on students being on campus.

If there is any silver lining to all this, now might finally be the time the higher education industry re-examines its business model. Tuition costs have been rising at twice the rate of inflation for decades, leaving many of our young people indebted until middle age. If colleges can use this moment to right- size their costs and priorities, they just might save themselves and continue to provide great opportunities for millions of future students.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ricedelman/2020/07/06/a-reckoning-in-higher-education-will-there-be-campus-life-after-covid-19/#c4ee7724d71b


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