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Colleges With Empty Campuses Face an Uncertain Financial Future

Endowments are under pressure, and schools don’t know how many freshmen will come to campus in autumn.

Hampshire College

Hampshire College

Source: Hampshire College
Updated on

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to remake U.S. higher education, speeding the closure of small, financially weak colleges and forcing others to make tough decisions about what they can afford. Even state schools may no longer be immune as tax revenue falls.

The most immediate challenge is one that could soon spiral into a crisis: It’s hard to sign up this fall’s freshman class when families can’t travel to visit campuses and many international students are shut out of the U.S. The longer lockdowns continue, the more uncertain schools are about the size of their classes, how much aid they’ll need to offer to fill seats, and the tuition revenue they can count on. “Everybody’s worried,” says Kevin Cavanagh, vice president for enrollment management at Bloomfield College outside Newark, N.J., which draws about 1,700 students, mostly black and Hispanic. “You don’t know what the variables will be.”