Colleges Slash Budgets in the Pandemic, With 'Nothing Off-Limits'


Ohio Wesleyan University is eliminating 18 majors. The University of Florida’s trustees this month took the first steps toward letting the school furlough faculty. The University of California, Berkeley, has paused admissions to its Ph.D. programs in anthropology, sociology and art history.

As it resurges across the country, the coronavirus is forcing universities large and small to make deep and possibly lasting cuts to close widening budget shortfalls. By one estimate, the pandemic has cost colleges at least $120 billion, with even Harvard University, despite its $41.9 billion endowment, reporting a $10 million deficit that has prompted belt tightening.

Though many colleges imposed stopgap measures such as hiring freezes and early retirements to save money in the spring, the persistence of the economic downturn is taking a devastating financial toll, pushing many to lay off or furlough employees, delay graduate admissions and even cut or consolidate core programs like liberal arts departments.

The University of South Florida announced last week that its college of education would become a graduate school only, phasing out undergraduate education degrees to help close a $6.8 million budget gap. In Ohio, the University of Akron, citing the coronavirus, successfully invoked a clause in its collective-bargaining agreement in September to supersede tenure rules and lay off 97 unionized faculty members.

“We haven’t seen a budget crisis like this in a generation,” said Robert Kelchen, a Seton Hall University associate professor of higher education who has been tracking the administrative response to the pandemic. “There’s nothing off-limits at this point.”

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