Unless you haven’t checked the news in a few weeks — which would be a good move for your mental health — you know that most American universities don’t know what the college experience will be like this coming fall. Will campuses reopen? Will learning be exclusively online from one’s childhood home like this spring semester? Will large lecture courses be online while small seminars be in-person? No college in America yet knows the answer to these questions. But they are all mapping out contingency plans.
Colleges Depend on Tuition
In fact, Brown University’s president, Christina Paxson, recently penned an editorial in The New York Times in which she essentially argued that higher education as we know it would crumble if colleges don’t reopen this fall. As she opines in her piece, “College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. Here’s How We Do It.,” “The extent of the crisis in higher education will become evident in September. The basic business model for most colleges and universities is simple — tuition comes due twice a year at the beginning of each semester. Most colleges and universities are tuition dependent. Remaining closed in the fall means losing as much as half of our revenue.”
Colleges Are Feeling the Pinch
A piece in The Wall Street Journal by Melissa Korn, Douglas Belkin, and Juliet Chung entitled “Coronavirus Pushes Colleges to the Breaking Point, Forcing ‘Hard Choices’ About Education” offers insight into the precarious financial position of many colleges and universities throughout America, some of which will be forced to close their doors should campuses no reopen in the fall. Of course, this will not be the case at Brown University or any other institution ranked in the top 25 nationally by US News & World Report, but even these schools are feeling the pinch. As Korn, Belkin, and Chung write, “Princeton University, one of the wealthiest in the country, with an endowment valued at $26 billion last year, announced a salary and hiring freeze. It is cutting back on all nonessential spending and won’t renew employment deals with some contract workers…Johns Hopkins University went from projecting a $72 million surplus this fiscal year to expecting a net loss of more than $100 million.” Princeton and Johns Hopkins are, of course, not alone during these hard times.
Brown Leader Calls for a Fall Reopen with Safety Measures in Place
So what should colleges do? We happen to agree with the message put forward by Brown’s leader. She believes Brown — and all schools that can — must reopen with “aggressive testing, technology-enabled contact tracing and requirements for isolation and quarantine.” She, like many of academia’s leaders, believes that “fierce intellectual debates…just aren’t the same on Zoom.” As she closes, “Our duty now is to marshal the resources and expertise to make it possible to reopen our campuses, safely, as soon as possible. Our students, and our local economies, depend on it.” Amen.
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