- The Washington Times - Friday, October 9, 2020

First, COVID-19 came for college athletics. Now, history, English and public policy are being pinched by colleges’ coronavirus-related budget cuts.

A growing number of schools — from Ithaca College in New York to a liberal arts school in rural Nebraska — are announcing expected cuts to their academic programs, including faculty positions within mainstays of the post-secondary curricula, such as humanities, gender studies and computer science departments.

A top official at Ithaca announced at a faculty meeting Tuesday that roughly 130 teaching contracts would be “nonrenewed” at year’s end, according to the Ithacan, the school’s student newspaper. The school reports that nearly 1,000 fewer students are enrolled this fall than last autumn, from 6,266 students to 5,354.

School officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Ithaca is far from the lone casualty during this lean pandemic year.

A budget committee at the University of California Riverside proposed in August to eliminate all athletics as well as the public policy school, saying they needed to cut up to 15% of the school’s 2021 budget as the university faces a shortfall of up to $108 million.

And on Monday, the president of Doane University in Crete, Nebraska, recommended cutting dozens of programs, including a minor in gender studies, a film major and the college’s honors program.

A school spokesman on Friday told The Washington Times the cuts had been in the works prior to the coronavirus’ arrival, but the timeline “tightened” during the pandemic.

“Back in February, we started a budget prioritization process and worked with a consulting firm,” he said. “The president saw a bit of concern in the trend with expenses outpacing revenues and wanted to get ahead with what could be a tough financial situation in a few years.”

Most of the academic programs targeted for cuts have small enrollments and would not affect current students, he said.

Even before the coronavirus hit last winter, nationwide college enrollment had declined by 1.25 million students over the last five years, a drop of 2.5%, according to the Center for American Progress. Last month, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center surveyed 600 schools and projected an additional decline of 2.5% in year-over-year enrollment this fall.

“As the COVID-19 disruptions continue, the concerning enrollment trends identified during the summer sessions are becoming clearer for fall 2020,” the research center said.

It’s not yet known the exact cost of enrollment declines to university coffers, but tuition and fees fund on average between a fifth and a third of nonprofit postsecondary institutions’ total revenue, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Students have reported a variety of reasons for staying out of college this fall, from financial stress to health concerns about campus infections to dissatisfaction with online learning.

Athletics departments have already taken wallops. In September, for example, the University of Minnesota announced it was discontinuing four varsity men’s sports, including track and field, gymnastics, and tennis, citing an estimated $75 million revenue loss. Staff cuts have been announced at athletic departments in Washington State and LaSalle University in Philadelphia and the University of South Florida.

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