By autumn 2019, the move seemed to have worked. "We think we'll be fine," recalls Michael A. Driscoll, the president. The regional institution, about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, appeared to be able to continue as a smaller but more stable institution, better able to make the strategic changes necessary to compete in the 21st century.
Then hit Covid-19. Overnight, the university immediately faced new budget constraints as it reimbursed students for room and board, and began to worry about enrollment in the fall. Short-term financial stability could no longer be expected. It was not the time to make the incremental adjustments favored by the leaders.
Last fall, Indiana quickly decided on one strategy five academic core to emphasize Areasselected based on demand from students and employers, whether they were institutional strengths and their potential for financial sustainability. Indiana also plans to lay off 53 permanent professors – 15 percent of the university's permanent faculty – and cut 47 additional faculty jobs through retirement or layoffs of non-permanent professors. The final number and type of faculty jobs lost is still in flux, but along with layoffs of administrative staff, the university will lose about 20 percent of its pre-pandemic workforce.
With higher education with average loss of income of 14 percent or more due to Covid-19, the pandemic poses an existential challenge to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of colleges that started out with already precarious finances last March. Every week or so it seems to bring new headlines about institutions making staggering cuts. Concordia University Chicago, a private institution for example, announced In December, 51 faculties and employees, about 7 percent of the workforce, are to be laid off and 15 academic programs are to be closed after a two-year “prioritization process”. Marquette University announced At the end of January, 39 employees had been laid off, part of a larger goal to cut more than 225 employees by 2022 to fill a planned budget gap of $ 45 million. Many of these cuts were the result of ongoing program evaluations to address longstanding financial challenges, but their urgency has been accelerated by the pandemic.
Experts agree that cutting budgets is not enough to survive. Struggling colleges need to strategize and adapt to a new way of working in order to find a way to eventually grow and prosper.
When the chaos of the pandemic subsides and the dust settles, American higher education as a whole may look very different: Wealthy institutions will remain relatively unchanged, but a layer of even leaner public universities and smaller private universities may have moved further away from the classic Spectrum of a university education. Your academic offering, taught by a faculty whose jobs are less secure, will focus more on deliverables. And after a crisis that disproportionately affected the most at-risk students, they may employ fewer specialists to assist students and more often urge faculty and staff to fill those shoes.
Such shifts don't have to mean colleges become commercial schools or that the liberal arts are dead. But Covid-19 has narrowed options for executives, shortened the schedule for change, and increased the commitment to results. Colleges can potentially position themselves for a future where they can grow, but that depends on the strategic decisions they make today.
It's intuitive that college leaders who want to stop financial bleeding should cut their smallest programs first, and many do. However, a niche program with only a few graduates, if inexpensive to operate, can generate college income or modestly promote enrollment. "So if you cut it, your financial situation will actually get worse," says Atkins. “One of the biggest and most important things here is that the analysis behind these changes is sound. There is no time when you can afford to make cuts that are the wrong cuts. "
The University of Vermont believes it is making the right cuts by eliminating four graduate programs and 12 majors and 11 minors including Religion, Philosophy, and Classics. While the university will continue to offer courses in these subjects, "students vote with their feet and walk away" from these areas of study, says President Suresh V. Garimella. The cuts affect about 120 current students, about 3 percent of the total number of students in the institution's College of Arts and Sciences. While the cuts are happening during the pandemic, Garimella says, they should have happened at some point anyway.
Cutting or combining other programs or classes can lead to lengthy efficiencies and simplify the institution's pitch for potential students. When Garimella first came to Vermont in 2019, it offered numerous programs in biology and environmental studies or environmental sciences, he says. "And I asked, if I were a student studying UVM, how would I know which of these majors to choose?" He recently announced a plan to streamline the supply of environmental studies and environmental sciences at the university.
Professors often shy away from closing traditional programs like classics, but times are simply changing, says S. Georgia Nugent, president of Illinois Wesleyan University, which eliminates eight humanities departments as part of a program review. She served as college president for nearly 20 years, during which time she has seen student attitudes to the shift in higher education revolving primarily around "the outcome of preparing for a job," she says. Nugent, who was trained as a classic, looks over a longer period of time to the fact that knowledge itself has changed. Colleges used to focus on teaching future pastors both Greek and Hebrew. Now there is more demand for neuroscience and computer science and "we inevitably have to change."
These types of movements are often faced with opposition from the faculty. At the University of Vermont, professors hosted an online "Teach-in" last month until protest the proposed cuts and have increased social media Organize opposition. Julie Roberts, professor of linguistics and chair of the faculty's senate, says administrators have been talking about the need for change for decades, but the proposed departures seem “more random than part of a larger strategic plan. “She is concerned that they will damage the University's Liberal Arts Foundation. For example, if the cuts keep intro Latin and eliminate high school courses or the ability to study classics, “you've essentially turned a college subject into high school. And high school is nothing wrong, but it should qualitatively different from college experience. "
Some faculty observers fear that Covid-19 is just offering administrators cover to make changes. Irene Mulvey, president of the American Association of University Professors and a professor of mathematics at Fairfield University, says that while she understands that the pandemic has had financial implications, they “may not be as bad as some institutions claim because they are You might want to take advantage of the crisis to make cuts that you always wanted to make. "
And cuts alone won't be enough to reverse the troubled fate of a college. For long-term financial stability, Atkins says, "You have to find ways to grow." That often means new programs.
Most colleges typically offer new programs based on the faculty's interests or mimicking the achievements of other institutions. When a college's budget is tight and the stakes are existential for its future, it needs to put in place programs that data show will generate the most students and income – healthcare and technology are particularly attractive right now – but that may not be the case for the faculty specialty or the hot upcoming program. That doesn't mean that every program a college ever considers makes sense only if it's profitable. "If a troubled institution has so many resources to reinvest to improve its wealth and you put them into something that doesn't take off," he adds, "you've just started a match with very tight capital you have. "
Atkins spends much of his professional life helping colleges figure out which academic programs are performing best for enrollment and income, and which should potentially be re-evaluated. However, he believes that the university “should not be a vocational school – somehow – we have to pass our culture on from one generation to the next. “Departments with few majors, or those that lose money but serve the mission of the institution, can be as important to the future of a college as the largest program on campus. "You have to build the right cross-subsidy network," says Atkins, "so the big things cover the things that aren't."
Lots of people already have. Have colleges lost According to an analysis of about 12 percent of their workforce across the country during the pandemic The Chronicle. Most of the layoffs were employees, particularly in hospitality, maintenance and other hourly wage-related operations on campus that were interrupted when classes went online last spring. Some of these positions may need to be re-filled when classrooms and dormitories return to full capacity, but many may not.
Dismissals from college can be particularly complicated. Many higher education workers are unionized and termination is subject to negotiation. And then there is the term of office. Academic tenure supposedly protects the professors who deserve it from losing their jobs except in the most extreme circumstances of misconduct or institutional hardship, but it is waning. In January the Kansas Board of Regents became temporarily granted The state's six public universities expanded their powers to dismiss one permanent faculty.
AAUP's Mulvey says administrators want hiring flexibility and maneuverability, "but it's a permanent faculty with academic freedom that makes a great institution."
Layoffs also affect individual life, families and communities. They can destroy morale, strain industrial relations, and in some cases exacerbate major inequalities.
The layoffs of hourly workers during Covid-19 have a racist dimension that college leaders need to consider, says Shaun R. Harper, professor of management and organization and executive director of the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California. The workforce in the higher education sector is stratified according to race, with the colored people mainly concentrating on the areas of catering, custody, floor maintenance and office. The latter are often the first to be laid off during troubled times, and they absorbed the brunt of the job loss in the first few weeks of Covid-19 – laid off by college leadership who are mostly white, Harper says. This dynamic "creates even more racial inequality and stratification in the workplace if we don't have a plan or strategy for it."
Often times, when college leaders think about big changes, they focus on minimizing the setback. The college leaders Atkins work with usually see this as one of their "greatest challenges." There's a relatively simple solution, he says: bring data with you and involve stakeholders in the process. Good data is especially important to face change with professors. "You're a researcher, you're an analyst, aren't you?" Atkins says. "And if you come up with a bad argument, you won't be very receptive."
It's important for leaders to be part of their message that the contract university will eventually grow. That means new employees, new programs and hopefully new students, new income and new tailwind for other projects and plans. “In this environment, I think it's terribly important to be ready to talk about growth and cuts in the same breath,” says Atkins. "It gives hope to people."
For example, over the past decade, many institutions have increased the number of staff in the Studentenwerk, many of whom are highly specialized to meet the increased demand for advice, counseling and other support services. Given the financial pressures that were put on universities even before Covid-19 and the mounting financial damage caused by the pandemic, many institutions do not have the resources to afford the kind of vertical specializations we have lived under in the United States last decade, ”said Kevin Kruger, president of Naspa, an organization for higher education professionals. Naspa conducted a survey of student affairs staff in September, he adds, “And it's not surprising that the majority of student affairs have new responsibilities after the pandemic started. I think that's the start of this trend. "
Colleges can distribute some student support work. "We're going to see more employees play a role in coaching, mentoring and counseling, and expanding the portfolio of the way we interact with students," says Kruger. Faculty members advising students, for example, are not new, but providing advice and mentoring is more of an official job across campus than an informal accident.
As part of a plan to focus more on students, Indiana University of Pennsylvania launched a program last fall that assigns a “guide” to every freshman – one of more than 80 employees who volunteer to be the personal point of contact for questions and reported help from students with problems. "When we entered the pandemic, it turned out to be even more important to have a single point of contact," said Driscoll, the president. He compares it to when students call his office to ask him to speak to the fellow about a problem: "I have my day job, but I'm here to help you succeed. I'll do anything to achieve this. "
Not every order can be processed by non-specialists. Colleges trying to shrink their budgets must do so at a time when the demand for student mental health services and other support services has never been higher and during a crisis that has skyrocketed the demand and the provision of these services has made it difficult. The pandemic has made it "difficult to think about how we would find sensible ways to increase efficiency there," says Kruger.
But the pandemic has also helped shed light on some advisory efficiencies. Duquesne University, a privately owned institution in Pittsburgh, used video conferencing technology for some of their consultation appointments before Covid-19 struck. After all surgeries were removed last spring, the counseling sessions went virtual and the administrators learned that "students actually like this as an option," says David J. Dausey, the Provost. "It's more private." He expects this to be a bigger part of the university's approach in the future.
As executives weigh where to cut back from their operations, Kruger cautions against taking shallow cuts and urges them to think about “where the investment in people and resources in the things that matter most to you will pay off most become". For example, it's possible that student activities and campus programming are not as active as they were before the pandemic. "Not that we want to get rid of it, but can we get some of these people involved in other efforts?" he says. Kruger expects more small, non-revenue generating sports programs to be cut. This can be a risky move as many small colleges are recruiting students by allowing them to continue their athletic careers in high school. However, coach salaries, equipment, and team travel costs can add up.
Few of these decisions are easy to analyze or make – it can be difficult to circumcise the baseball team if, for example, a trustee in sports was written back while on campus. But college leaders will be forced to make a series of critical calls to clarify "what's beautiful," says Kruger, "and what you must have."
The pandemic was harsh for low-income Americans and people of color, but it was particularly brutal for the latter, including college students. The number of freshmen who were in black for the first time this fall fell by 19 percent across the country, according to data Data Compiled by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, while the number of freshmen Latino fell 20 percent and the number of freshman Native American students fell 23 percent. The number of freshmen attending community college decreased by almost a third.
If government officials and college leaders do nothing to actively counter these trends, they will only get worse, says Harper of USC. "The facilities that most color students are involved in are chronically underfunded," he says. "When resources become scarce, it will be the institutions that are financially most affected."
With budgets and limited staff, Kruger said, many colleges "need to target resources to the students who need them most, not the students who need them least." Basic health, safety, and wellness issues aside, it can mean focusing on perseverance and graduation for first-generation students, low-income students, and students of color. This is in line with Harper's view that college leaders need to think about recovering from Covid-19 for color students in terms of making amends. No lump sum payments for past damage, as is often the case in the larger national discussion of reparations, he says: "I am considering giving additional support to institutions that have historically and chronically been neglected."
Harper doesn't believe that all discussions about institutional recovery have to be about race. "What I am suggesting, however, is that we are guaranteed to multiply the racial inequality that caused the pandemic by trying to achieve financial recovery in a non-racial way," he says.
Inequality is one of many factors that contributed to the calamities colleges faced during the pandemic and one of the many factors that leaders need to consider when planning to step up. The contract university can hope for and plan for a better future. However, if she doesn't try to avoid past mistakes, she'll likely repeat them – or make them worse.
(tagsToTranslate) Indiana University of Pennsylvania (t) Illinois Wesleyan University (t) National Clearinghouse Research Center for Students (t) University of Vermont (t) Duquesne University (t) Marquette University (t) Fairfield University (t) University of Southern California ( t) American Association of University Professors (t) leadership