Eduvation Blog

Billions Lost + Thousands Cut = The Winter of Our Discontent

 Good morning!

Even on campuses where classes have been largely moved online, some students are being welcomed back into residence. In some cases, it accommodates international students, or rural/remote students without access to internet at home. In other cases, it’s an effort to shore up ancillary revenues that are bleeding red ink.

Today, we sum up some of the budgetary and government pressures on higher ed institutions this year, plans for de-densified residences, and in breaking news: stunning numbers of COVID19 cases on campus in Georgia and Iowa, a handful in Canada, and a round up of CdnPSE announcements about the Winter 2021 term…

COVID on Campus

COVID19 outbreaks in the US continue, and countless campuses are coping with the need to quarantine and isolate students already. Georgia and Iowa are currently the 2 pandemic hotspots…

Georgia Tech reports that COVID19 cases in their Atlanta community doubled last week to 641, after the campus reopened for classes Aug 17. Confirmed cases in the state are near 270,500 – more than twice as many as Canada!  Newsweek

uIowa reports 922 students and 13 employees have tested positive for COVID19 since returning to campus Aug 18. NY Daily News

The situation in CdnPSE is still (thankfully) much better, with fewer students returning to campus, and so far just a handful of COVID19 cases reported. (I mentioned 3 at Nova Scotia universities yesterday.) And today…

McMaster U reports that one grad student on campus has tested positive for COVID19. McMaster

Yukon U announced last night that 2 students moved into campus housing without undergoing the mandatory 14-day self-isolation. Although they have no symptoms, access to the Ayamdigut campus has been restricted for 48 hours and contacts are being traced “out of an abundance of caution.” Yukon U

Budget Challenges

Likewise, US colleges are faced with financial impacts of the pandemic on an incredible scale…

Billions Lost at Harvard

Harvard experienced an estimated $415M shortfall for the year ended in June, and is projecting another $750M shortfall in the 2020-21 year. (And those are US dollars!) Although Harvard planned to accommodate 40% of undergrads in residence, just 25% have accepted that offer, and only 78% have committed to enrol. This could mean a loss of 1,470 students, each paying up to $72,357 for tuition, fees, room and board. (Princeton and Stanford abandoned plans for partially residential years in early August.) Normally 35% of Harvard’s operating budget comes from returns on its $41B endowment, which are also under significant pressure this year. Harvard Magazine

Stanford Cuts Athletics

Two months ago, Stanford U announced it was permanently disbanding 11 varsity athletics teams (nearly a third) to save $200M. The decision affected 22 coaches and 240 athletes, although scholarships will still be honoured. Through the years, Stanford athletes have gone on to win nearly 300 Olympic medals, and 10 of the sports now cut are Olympic sports. The decision has “sent chills through the Olympic community,” who now worry about programs at Ohio State, Penn State and elsewhere.  New York Times

1,300 Jobs at uMass Amherst

In a memo last Thursday, uMassachusetts Amherst announced it will furlough almost 850 residence and dining hall staff indefinitely, to help address a $169M budget deficit. Another 450 employees will be affected by reductions in hours and furloughs, to minimize permanent layoffs.  Forbes

Quarter Billion in Cuts at Ohio State

Also last Thursday, the Ohio State U board of trustees approved $252M in budget cuts for 2021 – more than half caused by reduced athletic revenues. A furlough policy including explicit mention of pandemics was approved in July, and will likely be implemented.  Forbes

Australian universities are also faced with massive losses due to closed borders, and have been announcing thousands of layoffs for months now…

Thousands of Jobs in Sydney

After a $470M loss this year, Australia’s Sydney U anticipates a 33% drop in new international enrolments next year, which will have budget impacts for 4 years. The senior executive is taking a 20% pay cut, and hours agostaff were asked to volunteer for “at least a hundred” redundancies. Some schools within the Faculty of Arts have been asked to find up to 30% savings in staff budgets. UNSW has announced 500 positions will be eliminated, about half voluntarily. Macquarie U has announced $120M in staff cuts, and U Technology Sydney warns up to 500 jobs may be lost.  Sydney Morning Herald

CdnPSE Budgets

Canada’s colleges and universities are not immune, grappling with pandemic expenses, declining international enrolment and ancillary revenues, and new costs to pivot courses and services online – plus cuts by right-leaning governments that began even before COVID19, in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario…

Pressures in Alberta

In January, the Kenney government announced a shift to performance-based funding, which has been delayed but will be phased in over the coming years, along with a 20% cut in overall PSE funding. The province is undertaking a PSE review which could potentially lead to mergers or closures. Already, uAlberta has cut $110M and 400 jobs in the last 2 years, and is planning to cut $120M and 635 more jobs in the next fiscal. A major restructuring and assessment of facilities is being undertaken. Huffington Post

“We’ve always said that there will be infections in the schools… There is no world in which you could reduce class sizes in half and reopen the schools for the current school year. It’s simply fictitious.” – Jason Kenney, Premier of Alberta


Pressures in Manitoba

In April, in response to the pandemic crisis, the Manitoba government gave its universities just 5 days to plan for a cut in payroll of up to 30%. Ultimately, the cuts were considerably less, such as 5% from uManitoba, and 3.7% from uWinnipeg. Institutions can potentially access 1% of that cut back from a transitional support fund. But the province has also been considering performance-based funding models, and emphasizing career-relevant applied training.  Huffington Post

Pressures in Ontario

In January, the Ford government announced a 10% cut to domestic student tuition fees, and the implementation of aggressive new performance-based funding models that would eventually affect 60% of institutional grants. (The funding changes have been delayed but may come into effect in 2021-22.) Metrics based on graduate employment will be challenging as the recession will likely drag on. The minister clearly expects institutions to resort to layoffs, and unions fear the burden will largely fall on sessional and contract instructors.  Huffington Post

“Colleges and universities are businesses at the end of the day, that provide academic services to students and learners across the province, and they are not immune by any means at all from the challenges surrounding COVID.” – Ross Romano, Ontario Minister of Colleges & Universities


Winter 2021

So far, just 19 of the 92 institutions I’m tracking have mentioned the Winter 2021 term (to my knowledge – please let me know if I’ve missed an announcement!) Many of them have merely indicated that an announcement will come this fall, and offered the hope that on-campus instruction might resume. 3 have indicated a blended term (NSCC, Ontario Tech, and Okanagan College). 7 have indicated a largely or entirely online term, including Carleton, Queen’s, SFU, York, Yukon, and Concordia (whose residence will remain closed), as well as…

Wilfrid Laurier U has announced that “the majority of the Winter 2021 term will continue to be offered in a remote and online format.” There will also be a special focus on ensuring that students can complete practical or experiential courses required to graduate. WLU

Rez Updates

Student residence halls have often been compared to cruise ships, for their capacity to bring people together from divergent hometowns, and to foster viral spread in fairly concentrated living quarters and common areas. Most CdnPSEs are de-densifying campus by moving the majority of courses online, but their success in weathering the second wave of COVID19 will depend even more on how consistently students can practice social distancing during their extracurricular hours, in campus housing and off-campus housing alike.

So far I have tracked 47 announcements in my CdnPSE spreadsheet. (Let me know if you have additions or corrections!)  Most institutions are reducing occupancy, at a minimum setting aside rooms for quarantine purposes, but also typically converting double rooms into singles.

Of the 24 institutions that have publicly shared occupancy percentages, the overall average is currently 39%. At the low end, Concordia has closed its residences entirely, and both McMaster and Guelph have indicated they will house students only in exceptional circumstances. 7 more institutions plan to run their rez at 30% or less. Half the institutions plan to operate at 35-56% occupancy. At the high end, St Lawrence College estimated broadly that they would operate at somewhere between 50-75%, and Western (the last I heard) said it would operate at 80% capacity. (I sincerely hope they have revised that downward!)

Media reports have been taking an interest as move-ins start, most recently…

uCalgary reports 900 students moving into residence, instead of the usual 2,600 (so they are operating at 30% capacity). There has been a 350% increase in deferred move-ins to the winter term (900 instead of 200). CBC

Canadore College will run its residences at no more than half capacity this fall, with 330 beds instead of the usual 660. It remains unclear how many international students will be able to physically enter the country.  North Bay Nugget

Humber College planned to operate its residences at 40% capacity, but student demand declined to just 21%. Global

uLethbridge expects 284 students living on campus this fall, although 85% of them will be studying entirely online. This is 28% of the usual 1015 beds. Global

Mount Royal U is operating its residences at 30% capacity, with 250 students moving in (compared to the usual 900). Global

Nipissing U plans to house 400 students in residence this fall, for “reduced density.” North Bay Nugget

uOttawa expects 1,000 students to move into housing normally accommodating 4,200 (so 24% capacity). Global

SAIT is expecting 290 students to move into residence this fall, with a cap of 550 (instead of the usual 1,200). This means it will be operating at 24% occupancy. Global


No time this morning, so tune in tomorrow as I sum up some of the more interesting precautions and technologies being deployed to enable a return to campus during this pandemic.

Meanwhile, stay safe and be well!

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