Region’s Higher Ed Institutions Face COVID-19 Budget Challenges
College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State University are both facing immense budget challenges due to COVID-19, according to early projections being shared today at a meeting of CR’s Board of Trustees and later at a meeting of HSU’s University Senate.
Neither institution expects to dodge the severe budget reductions facing colleges and universities nationwide.
CR was already facing a $1.3 million budget reduction due to declines in state funding. Now the College is bracing for more state cuts as well as a shortfall from dormitory vacancies and a decline in food services. Options being considered include incentives for early retirement, leaving vacant positions unfilled, continuing to make necessary adjustments to operations in non-academic areas that are considered inefficient, and otherwise cutting back on personnel spending.
HSU was similarly in the midst of planning for a serious budget reduction prior to the coronavirus. Now, instead of a $5.4 million gap, the University is projecting a $20 million shortfall over two years, primarily due to expected enrollment declines because of COVID. Many options are being looked at, including combinations of a hiring chill, spending freeze, operational changes, incentives for retirements, travel reductions, and more. The CFO is actively having discussions with each division to determine pathways to accomplish these reductions, and presentations are planned to share information with members of the campus community.
At CR, officials say enrollment is difficult to predict, but will likely decline if there is additional loss of face-to-face classes.
At HSU, which has large numbers of students from throughout the state and country, expectations are currently for an overall 20 percent decline in fall enrollment, including an estimated 30 percent decline in new freshmen.
All of these projections could change dramatically. Economists are struggling to predict how the economy will fare in the next year. And within higher education, enrollment experts from across the country are having difficulty projecting how many students to expect in the next academic year. None of them have confronted a situation like the current one.
What is clear is that higher education is among the areas most highly affected by the response to the pandemic. Similar to airlines, retail, and hospitality, it has the sort of frequent interaction among people that physical distancing guidelines are preventing.
Presidents at both CR and HSU say that difficult choices are ahead, with big changes needing to be made quickly. They also stress they are confident about the future. The two - CR President Keith Flamer and HSU President Tom Jackson - say the strong partnership the two schools have built over the last year will be a great help.
President Keith Flamer says, “Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic downturn will be challenging for our local businesses and higher education institutions. We have an established collaborative constituency based budgeting process that will help us make thoughtful and thorough decisions with the primary objectives of supporting student success and keeping CR accessible. The depth of our investment in this work is a direct reflection of our excitement around our future and the importance of deliberately and carefully building a strong foundation that will enable us to achieve our mission and vision set by the Board of Trustees. Over the next few years, we will be laser focused on keeping our academic programs attractive and useful to students as our economy bounces back from this challenging time. We will be working even more closely with our partners at HSU and throughout the region.”
President Jackson echoes that sentiment. “Our focus at HSU has to remain on students and their educational experience. The coming months will be hard, no question. Ultimately, we will come out of this a different university and, I predict, an even stronger one. Our vice presidents are addressing possible options internally and more information will be available in the next few weeks. Current efforts related to enrollment will be important, as is creating new programs and finding new revenue. At the same time, we will lean into our strengths in areas like science, natural resources, the arts.”
The two presidents have remained in close contact during the response to the pandemic. They have held teleconference meetings multiple times each week to share ideas, and these meetings have frequently included regional superintendents and other representatives of K-12 schools.