Policy Brief: Higher Education After COVID-19

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal has published “Higher Education After COVID-19,” a policy brief to guide universities’ response to the harsh financial realities imposed by the pandemic. COVID-19 and state economic shutdowns are predicted to cause record enrollment declines and decreased revenues from endowments, private gifts, and state appropriations. To help higher education policymakers prepare for these pressures, this brief provides recommendations for short-term, urgent needs and long-term, structural reforms. 

The brief prioritizes the academic mission of higher education by suggesting budget cuts to four areas: administration, athletics, services, and auxiliary functions. 

“Non-academic positions should be cut significantly,” write Jenna A. Robinson and Sumantra Maitra, authors of the report. And college athletics should also face a “fundamental restructuring.”

“Higher education will look significantly different this fall,” said Jenna Robinson. “Many universities will have to make unprecedented cuts to stay solvent. This brief is a roadmap for universities to follow.”

The authors also recommend modest cuts to academic programs, including changes to faculty compensation and teaching duties and possible consolidation or elimination of departments characterized by small numbers of students, politicization, or low return on investment for graduates. 

Maitra issues a pressing warning for higher education policymakers: “Higher-ed is one of the most bloated sectors of our economy … [U]niversities should urgently take this opportunity to push through reforms, or they will either perish or face external intervention by policymakers duly concerned about the increasing wastage of resources and tax-funded financial reliefs.” 

The full policy brief can be read on the Martin Center’s website