Coronavirus & College: More Evidence That Colleges Are in Serious Trouble

Before COVID-19 hit, many colleges and universities were on thin ice. Enrollments have been slowly falling for years and for the great majority of schools with little or no endowment money as a backup, that means financial stress. Now that the pandemic is causing many students to stay away, that stress could become lethal.

In today’s Martin Center article, Shannon Watkins writes about this problem.

Focusing on a recent Hechinger Report analysis of the financial strength of many colleges and universities, she looks in particular at institutions in North Carolina. Quite a few of the private schools and even a few of the public ones receive warning flags.

It’s even true that many of the state’s community colleges are in trouble. You might think that COVID would cause more students to choose to stay close to home and economize on tuition and fees, but apparently that’s not the case. Community college numbers are also falling.

College officials, Watkins advises, should prepare for still further enrollment declines. After all, many students choose to go to college as much for the “experience” as the learning. If they can’t get that experience, they’ll do something else.

Watkins concludes, “In order to keep their doors open and return to financial health, colleges — more than ever — need to strategically cut costs and reign in their spending. In some cases, colleges on the brink of collapse should consider merging with a neighboring institution. It might be their best hope for survival.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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