New Jersey colleges still reeling from impacts of pandemic
New Jersey colleges are still adjusting to hundreds of millions of dollars in deficits caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with student enrollments decreasing and permanent faculty layoffs possibly to follow.
“To state the obvious, the pandemic has changed everything,” said Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway, in testimony to the state Senate Higher Education Committee.
Holloway said Rutgers’ pandemic-related deficit is $180 million. The university has responded with pay cuts, work sharing and furloughs, a hiring freeze and travel restrictions.
Most classes at Rutgers will continue to meet remotely this semester, as they have since last March. Dormitories that usually house 19,000 students currently have around 3,500 – more than double the population in the fall semester. Dorm residents get tested weekly for COVID-19.
“Our aspirational goal is to be 100% returned in the fall, but we will not have 100% of the community at the university at the same time,” Holloway said.
Rowan University President Ali Houshmand said the school faced a $51 million revenue loss, including $16 million in refunds last spring. Rowan is providing a 10% discount on tuition and fees, to reflect the incomplete college experience right now for students.
But even that isn’t keeping them enrolled.
“I see a number of students are choosing to have a gap semester in the spring because they basically see light at the end of the tunnel toward the fall, hoping that they will come back normal,” Houshmand said. “So suddenly, we noticed a large number of students dropping out over the past one month.”
Joseph Marbach, the president of Georgian Court University, said the 14 independent colleges in New Jersey have experienced $160 million to $180 million in COVID-driven deficits. They have received $80 million in federal aid, to date.
“We all hope to return to normal in the fall of 2021 so that our students can return to the all-around higher education experience for not only their educational development but their social development,” Marbach said.
Georgian Court, which is in Lakewood, enrolled more first-year students this year than last, but its overall enrollment is down more than 7% due to a significant drop in transfers and a reduction in its graduate education programs.
"We think that many of our (students) who are high school teachers are feeling Zoom burnout – teaching on Zoom all day and then trying to take online classes in the evening,” Marbach said.
Susanna Tardi, a sociology professor at William Paterson University and president of its faculty union, American Federation of Teachers Local 1796, said university officials have warned that a $20 million budget deficit could prompt layoffs within a year.
“William Paterson is planning for a potential faculty layoff of approximately 60 to 100 to begin in January 2022 and layoffs for additional librarian, faculty and professional staff. This reduction could mean a loss of 16% to 26% of the full-time faculty,” Tardi said.
“This planned layoff is unprecedented in the state of New Jersey,” she said. “Four undergraduate programs and six graduate programs are currently slated to be eliminated. It is unclear whether or not these anticipated layoffs at William Paterson will be followed by similar cuts at other state colleges and universities.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.