COVID-19 hits US university budgets – Chinadaily USA

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student exits an on-campus COVID-19 testing site on Oct 19, as coronavirus continues to rage in the United States. BING GUAN/REUTERS

Universities across the United States have been forced to cut an estimated $120 billion from their budgets amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, severely affecting teaching staff, students, the courses they can offer, and campuses.

The deep cuts have occurred across the board at universities such as Harvard, Cornell, UC-Berkeley, South Florida and Akron, according to the American Council on Education.

At the University of South Florida in Tampa, trustees recently approved allowing the university to furlough some of the school’s faculty. They hope it will close a $49 million shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our valued faculty and staff members will be impacted, some more than others,” Ralph Wilcox, USF provost and executive vice-president, said during a news conference last week.

At least 100 programs at US universities have been suspended, The Chronicle of Higher Education said. Most of the courses are in social sciences and humanities.

At the University of California in Berkeley, PhD programs were temporarily halted in sociology, anthropology and art history.

Princeton University in New Jersey has temporarily stopped taking new PhD students.

USF has transformed its college of education into a graduate school. It will stop offering undergraduate education degrees to help deal with a $6.8 million budget gap, The New York Times reported. The cuts at the schools have sparked concern among higher education groups that fear the repercussions will reverberate for years.

On Oct 19, the American Council on Education and nine higher education groups wrote a letter to Congress about the issue.

Federal support urged

“The bottom line is clear: To stave off catastrophic consequences our association strongly believes that at least $120 billion in new federal support is needed, and it is needed quickly…. If unaddressed, the ramifications will linger for years, well after our country has recovered from COVID-19,” the letter said.

University budget cuts came as a surge of coronavirus cases hit at least 37 states, increasing hospitalizations and deaths.

In March, when universities were ordered to close by their states’ governors, many colleges adopted cost-cutting measures.

Those included pay freezes for lecturers, early retirement for some staff, asking students not to live on campus and delaying admission of undergraduates. The measures though have not stopped them from hemorrhaging money.

Harvard, which has a $41.9 billion endowment, the nation’s largest, reported an operating loss of $10 million in its annual report. The school has stopped hiring staff, cut athletic programs and reduced managers’ pay to claw back revenue.

The virus has run rampant on college campuses, with at least 214,000 cases this year and 75 deaths, according to The New York Times.

Colleges and universities have had to allocate part of their budgets to testing for the coronavirus. Cornell University, an Ivy League school, will spend $10 million this semester on its test-and-trace program. It brought back 24,000 people to campus in August.

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