With uncertainty surrounding when classes will be able to resume in person as well as what the economic situation will look like in the coming months, most higher education institutions are projecting revenue losses and anticipating for the possibility of decreased enrollment in the summer and fall.
Colleges and universities around the Northland are no different. Several schools the News Tribune spoke to said they're seeing fewer students enrolled for fall classes than this time last year. Many are hopeful those numbers will improve.
Campuses like the College of St. Scholastica and Lake Superior College both have seen an uptick in more-local students who want to stay closer to home. All area schools have seen some form of financial impact from the pandemic, though the situation varies, particularly between campuses with student housing and campuses without it.
Here's what the area's colleges and universities are projecting:
The University of Wisconsin System is anticipating $170 million in revenue losses for the spring semester. At the campus level, $1.3 million of that is projected in losses at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
The bulk of the revenue losses at UWS are due to dining and housing refunds to students who moved off campus after the university requested everyone who could do so.
To reduce costs, the UW System has been authorized by the UW System Board to implement an intermittent furlough policy, meaning campus employees would be required to take unpaid time off.
As of Friday, UWS administration was still establishing the details on the intermittent furloughs, said Jordan Milan, director of strategic communications and special assistant to the chancellor.
On Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced that all of the state's executive agencies, including the UW System, will need to make a 5% reduction in taxpayer-funded operations by June 30. For the UW System that amounts to somewhere around $45 million and Milan said it's not yet known what that will mean for UWS.
Depending on what the travel situation looks like this fall, UWS, which enrolls about 200 international students a year — about 9% of its student body — could take a hit. This is why the university is starting to look at solutions that would still allow students to enroll from abroad, said executive director of admissions Jeremy Nere.
"I think any time you have an impact like this the student or the individual pursuing higher education will go through Maslow's hierarchy of needs and certainly address their immediate needs first before they pursue higher education," Nere said. "I think that's a little bit of that big unknown."
Overall, Nere said UWS is expecting a slight decline in enrollment this fall and is hopeful for a rebound after that.
The College of St. Scholastica is still gathering the financial impact COVID-19-related changes will have on spring semester finances, said Bob Ashenmacher, executive director of communications at CSS.
Still the college anticipates revenue losses due to housing and dining refunds, event cancellations and not being able to rent out housing over the summer.
As for cost-saving efforts to stabilize finances, the college is making salary adjustments, re-organized system leadership and enforced a "soft hiring freeze" outside of critical positions. The college is also considering voluntary furloughs.
CSS plans to provide more clarity on what the fall semester will look like by mid-June, Ashemacher said, giving students, faculty and staff as much of a heads-up as possible.
Ashemacher said the college is seeing that the pandemic is affecting enrollment at this moment, while acknowledging that enrollment figures are always fluid at this time of year.
"It's very much in family's minds, students themselves, their parents, their spouses," Ashemacher said. "As we all know, COVID-19 is changing life for all of us. And so it is something that's affecting what is already a major life decision for a lot of these young students."
In early April, University of Minnesota System officials outlined various system-wide projections ranging from best case to severe scenarios in a U of M Board of Regents meeting. The pandemic's projected system-wide financial impact was reported to be $75 million for the spring semester.
At the campus level, University of Minnesota Duluth is still tracking expenses and revenue losses due to the pandemic, said UMD spokesperson Lynne Williams. The U of M Board of Regents has not yet approved all of the campus's possible refunds.
As for cost savings efforts, U of M System leaders have rolled out a few plans, including a 10% voluntary salary cut for U of M President Joan Gabel and her cabinet starting July 1. About 200 of the U of M's senior leaders will complete a week of unpaid work before June 30. Hiring and salary freezes have also been implemented.
Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College is projecting between $100,00 and $200,000 in refunded tuition revenue — predominantly for continuing education courses due to cancellations — across all four campus of the college's campuses.
WITC, which doesn't offer campus housing, is sitting in a "pretty good" financial situation considering the circumstances, said associate vice president of marketing and communications, Jena Vogtman.
"We're feeling like we have good plans in place," Vogtman said.
College-wide, WITC is projecting a 5-8% decline in fall enrollment, but has seen projections improve in the last two weeks.
Minnesota State schools
As of April 13, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, which includes 30 colleges and seven universities around the state, is projecting revenue losses between $35 and $45 million for the spring semester, largely due to refunded room and board as well as canceled travel and events.
Lake Superior College
Contrary to the Minnesota State system's financial projection, Lake Superior College's budget has remained fairly balanced, said vice president of institutional advancement and external relations Daniel Fanning.
Summer enrollment will be down due to certain face-to-face programs that can't be offered. As a "late-registration school," Fanning said it's too early for LSC to project what its fall enrollment numbers will be but the college is down 12% compared to this time last year.
"I suspect we’ll see a lot more last-minute applications to enrollment than we’ve probably ever seen because I suspect a lot of students and their parents are waiting to see what happens in general with COVID, but even particularly whether or not some classes can be offered online," Fanning said.
Certain areas like the nursing assistant program and radiologic technology are up significantly, Fanning said, as well as in manufacturing and medical laboratory technician programs.
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College
Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College President Stephanie Hammitt said the college is anticipating between $80,000 and $100,000 in revenue losses, with the largest loss being housing refunds. The Cloquet college has one dormitory that can house about 95 students.
Compared to last year, FDLTCC has fewer registered students. That said, the college has 65 more applicants who have not yet registered for classes than it did at this time last year, FDLTCC Director of Public Information Thomas Urbanski told the News Tribune. The college also has 25% more prospective students.
"A decline could happen, but we have several indicators that give us reasons to be optimistic," Urbanski said.
Northeast Higher Education District
The Northeast Higher Education District, which consists of five Iron Range colleges, is anticipating a total revenue loss of $1.1 million due to COVID-19, said interim president of NHED Michael Raich.
The five NHED colleges are Hibbing Community College, Vermilion Community College in Ely, Mesabi Range College in Virginia, Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids, and Rainy River Community College in International Falls.
Raich said summer and enrollment numbers are down significantly at NHED compared to this time last year.
"The potential exists for a boost in enrollment by displaced workers looking to retool in high-demand fields," Raich said. "This is a common effect of a struggling economy."
Though it's too early to know what the fall semester will look like, Raich and others have said they are ready to adapt to continue serving students.