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Op-Ed: Public Higher Ed Needs a Bailout Over Coronavirus

Op-Ed: Public Higher Ed Needs a Bailout Over Coronavirus

“soon, real soon, as in, like, right now”

It becomes more apparent by the day that some schools may not survive this crisis.

John Warner writes at Inside Higher Ed:

Public Higher Ed Is Going to Need a Bailout

Right now, by necessity, higher education institutions have been focused on short-term continuity as they deal with the sudden disruption of a global pandemic.

But soon, real soon, as in, like, right now, I believe they need to move to prepare for operating in a world where we may have to practice some form of social distancing for the next 12 to 18 months, the earliest period at which we can expect wide distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. While experts expect the prevalence of disease to decline over the coming months, until there is a vaccine, it will periodically resurge, requiring (at least localized) periods of social distancing.

A huge proportion of higher ed institutions are tuition dependent, and even a slight shortfall in enrollment requires deep cuts. A sudden collapse in enrollment and tuition revenue is an existential threat.

For example, over a three-year period ending in 2015, the College of Charleston saw its number of out-of-state students decrease by 400 students. This decline resulted in a $2.1 million budget shortfall that led to immediate midyear cuts as well as cuts in subsequent years. This resulted in “hard choices” that had the potential to “inhibit the college’s ability to fulfill its mission.”

This was all a shortfall of one-half of 1 percent of the total budget. We are facing something much worse.

How many institutions could operate if their out-of-state cohort is reduced by 10 percent? How many could handle an overall enrollment decline of 20 percent?


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Morning Sunshine | March 21, 2020 at 3:02 pm

how many families are going to realize that their kids can do all the work sent by their teachers in half the time it takes at a .gov public school building?
How many college students are going to ask themselves why they have to live on campus or in expensive college towns when their classes are just as good online?

I think this will change the way many people see the education complex in this country.

1. Captain Obvious opines, “Why should we bail out institutions that have morphed into leftist ideological reeducation camps?”

2. “It becomes more apparent by the day that some schools may not survive this crisis.”

And this would be a bad thing?

    JOHN B in reply to MarkJ. | March 28, 2020 at 9:15 am


    Every day these schools existed (before the coronavirus) was a bailout.

    They spent the taxpayer $$$ like there was no tomorrow. huge salaries for administrators with bloated numbers of employees. Fancy new buildings, sports arenas, campus hangouts costing billions – but the school year and the number of courses shrunk.

    And the taxpayer backed student loans paying huge tuitions, which hurt the students and kept the college oligarchs living rich.

    No bailouts. And we need to end the prior constant bailouts.

Who wants to save Oberlin?

    Erik the Red in reply to ConradCA. | March 22, 2020 at 8:24 am

    I’m sorry, but this “Liberal College”-bashing here is getting really tiresome, mostly because it doesn’t address what liberalism means. Wasn’t ‘Liberal’ co-opted by Progressives and narrowed to mean “freeing {just} the oppressed”? Isn’t Progressivism growth-oriented like anything else? Does it not seek to expand its power and ‘market-share’ by creating more ‘oppressed people’ and guilting others into subsidizing their freeing (social $$ benefits, affirmative action, etc.). But instead of addressing that deep question, it’s just easier to bash things.

    There are plenty of institutions out there (Hillsdale and Grove City come to mind) that affirm and put into action the classic liberal college experience that affirms the ‘classical liberal’ American tradition that majority of other institutions have fallen away from. Point to those institutions doing it right, instead of bashing the whole enterprise, would ya?

    Say what you will about snowflake SJW culture & Neo-Marxist Post-Structuralist politics on campus (and off) (and I’m no fan of Post-Structuralist, Discourse-ethics Neo-Marxism) , but for Oberlin and other small towns, these colleges are their economic backbone. The economic impact from faculty, administrators and students (from income taxes, to homebuying to discretionary spending & sales tax and the ancillary employment these colleges offer) generates millions of dollars a year. Where will that come from when the College disappears, along with students, faculty, admins? You’re going to turn the College into a factory complex? How’s that going to work; where’s the product this is going to churn out? Where’s the investment income to make this happen going to come from….another borrow & tax ‘stimulus package’? How do you propose Oberlin College transform itself into the “Oberlin HVAC, Computer Coding and Welding Institute…when several such places of those already exist (hello! Community Colleges!! Vo-Techs!!), and THEY are also in financial trouble???

    What about the value of the independence-building living & learning experience a residential college offers? One doesn’t build independent project-pursuit, critical thinking, information-seeking, or collaboration,cooperation or community sitting in front of laptop screens watching Prezi presentations and video lectures. Why are we gleefully endorsing this model?

IneedAhaircut | March 21, 2020 at 5:23 pm

I’m more worried about state retirement systems than colleges and universities. If this is truly a bear market, several very large systems (Illinois…) will go belly up and their will be calls for a massive bailout.

Professor Jacobson: Woulnd’t the title be more accurately, Public Education WANTS a bailout?

Because in my humble opinion, the best thing for our country is for many of these “institutions” to stay closed for good.

I think a law requiring states and other government organizations to take measures that ensure every government retiree receives their full pension. Every year they should buy an annuity that provides a fraction of the total pension so when workers retire they will receive their full pension. This would limit the mischief these organizations could get into. This should hopefully force them to cut spending benefits to illegal aliens.

    JOHN B in reply to ConradCA. | March 28, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Every public employee includes a large number of grossly overpaid higher education “employees”.

    Cut out the higher education crowd and the pension systems suddenly look a lot stronger.

Spend your endowments first, then get back to us.

John Warner is a left wing agitator who escaped adjunct teaching of writing to get a real corporate job of some sort. We need a rationalization in higher ed, where we’re not paying for expensive leftist ideology studies that Americans largely disapprove of. If people want that, let them learn it in a way we don’t subsidize.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to artichoke. | March 23, 2020 at 8:00 pm


    So he’s one of those that believes…..

    “It’s NOT what you Know, But Who You DO!

I would be more in favor of this than bailing out he Airlines and Big business.

The Friendly Grizzly | March 22, 2020 at 8:12 am

Let the schools close down their grievance studies departments, sports, and other fluff. THEN, they can come begging.

    AND, as buck61 points out, spend at least a huge chunk of their endowment funds before coming to the taxpayers for a bailout. Preferably then to be told NO.

According to the BLS, only 27 percent of jobs require a college degree (2+ yrs), while about 47 percent of the workforce has one. One way to interpret this is that we have too many people getting degrees. One solution is to have fewer people going to college. One way to do that is with fewer colleges.

Now, the government could pick which colleges get to survive. Our you could let me decide. I’d totally arbitrarily let Johns Hopkins survive, of course. My older son is a third generation Hopkins graduate. So if I’m making the call, they’ll stay around for at least another generation.

Or you could let the market sort things out.

I know which option I would pick. (No, I don’t really feel any loyalty to the colleges that I attended My prep school is a different story.)

Oberless could become a Whinery. Oh wait…They already are.