Colleges May Have Survived COVID … But Surviving Post-COVID May Prove More Difficult – New England Board of Higher Education
Colleges and universities were hit hard by the COVID crisis. The American Council on Education (ACE) estimated a total impact of $120 billion in a recent letter to legislators. That number reflects both direct expenses and lost revenues. It is easy to identify the direct expenses associated with testing, cleaning, PPE, remote learning technology and improved ventilation systems. But the lost revenues, while harder to measure, were just as impactful.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports a 22% drop in students going directly from high school to college. With an estimated 30 million people out of work, part-time enrollments and lower-priced community colleges were affected sharply. Four-year institutions may have experienced smaller overall enrollment drops than the community colleges, but the combination of fewer students in residence halls and significantly higher costs associated with those students who did choose to live on campus, had a dramatic negative impact on auxiliary revenues.
Given the gloomy financial realities of both 2019 and 2020 it may be somewhat surprising how few colleges permanently closed their doors as a result. It might be tempting to believe the worst of the financial woes for higher education will soon be over once the vaccine brings an end to the pandemic, but that sigh of relief would be premature.