Higher Education Struggles To Cope With The Virus

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Anxiety is not an uncommon emotion these days, as our institutions try to organize a response to the pandemic. Perhaps it is Higher Education that may experience more radical change than any other group of institutions. Hospitals, pubic schools, even most small businesses will reappear, but there is growing concern higher education may be permanently scarred, as a result of the effects of social distancing and staying in place.

As a sector, higher education is getting “hammered,” as some analysts have suggested. Some universities and colleges may never recover much less sports programs operate as usual. Many college and universities were forced to refund room and board. In Lafayette’s case 1/2 room and board was refunded, or applied to next year’s expenses. In addition, every student was given a 1,000 dollar stipend to cover expenses of moving out.  However, not all students were able to move out, and as I understand it from some sources, about three hundred students remain on campus.

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Lafayette like many schools has moved to online learning. Syllabus’ needed to be changed, curriculum, and teaching methods needed to be readjusted. I can only imagine the difficulty the stem fields have in teaching without access to labs. and seniors who have had to cope with lack of access for their various research projects. Lafayette does have a 900 million dollar endowment to draw from, but that drawing from  an endowment that may have suffered declines may impact resources in the future. Salaries and hiring have been frozen, and senior officials have taken cuts in compensation. I have to believe that alumni, whose portfolios and businesses which have been hit by declines no doubt will ultimately have an impact on philanthropy.

Lesser institutions may be left in precarious circumstances. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of all higher education institutions are in trouble. With about 5300 such institutions it could mean that as many as  1000  will not survive intact. Public universities are not left alone, because they are. supported by state government already strapped for cash.

Over the last decade there was an 11 percent enrollment drop. Expenses have continued to climb during the last ten years, but going forward that will not be possible. Discount rates ( scholarships vs full pay) is rising past the 40. pct level, a level years ago considered unsustainable. The three classes of vulnerable institutions effected are non-selective private colleges, middle tier state institutions and community colleges.

The AP reports that some universities are looking at losses of 100 million or more. Drew University is laying off 70 staff, Quinnipiac has announced 3- 5 percent salary cuts, Marquette is furloughing 250, University of Minnesota had a 300 million dollar hit, and the University of Arizona has announced salary cuts up to 20 percent. The New York Times estimates a 15-20 percent drop in enrollment nation wide next year.

What does this mean for sports programs? The era of multi-million dollar contracts for coaches is over ( thankfully Lafayette and all the Patriot League schools are not among them). It has been rumored that the Power 5 conferences are considering cancelling or altering the fall football season. So goes football so goes the other non revenue sports. For Patriot League schools, those budgets are not large compared to the overall budget, but the programs are important to connect and encourage alumni giving.

It is a certainty, if students do not return to campus in the fall there will be no sports at least in that semester. What happens to eligibility, and will students defer their fall semester for a year? After all, they enrolled for the whole experience not an “at home on line education.”

I hope we are through this by June but the clock is ticking and there is no doubt the effects may be lasting!!

Published by

William Rappolt

I am past chairman of the Lafayette Friends of Field Hockey and a former BOT member at Lafayette College. My wife and I are members of the Board of Trustees for USA Field Hockey Foundation. I am the retired treasurer of M and T Bank Corporation and a 20 year fan of Division one field hockey

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