What Will College Tuition Look Like Amid the Coronavirus?
By Madyson Fitzgerald
Uncertainty regarding the coronavirus has left many college students concerned over possible tuition costs and financial aid for the upcoming academic years.
Most states have closed their institutions of higher learning for the rest of the year, moving instruction online. As a result, many student services that would be open right now, like tutoring stations, writing centers and dining halls, are closed. This has led many schools to refund parts of tuition, meal plans, and room and board costs.
These refunds have cost universities across the country millions of dollars, putting them in a particularly difficult spot after reporting a national decline in enrollment for the eighth consecutive year. Moody’s Investors Service reported that the virus will negatively affect colleges in places all over the world.
“We expect rated universities in all of our current jurisdictions – US, Canada, UK, Australia, Singapore and Mexico – to enroll fewer students for the next academic year than planned, due to the outbreak,” said Jeanne Harrison, the VP-Senior Analyst at Moody’s. “In addition, if campuses remain closed for part of the year, income from residence halls, catering, conferences and sporting events will be lower than budgeted. Endowment and gift income may also decline.”
According to Moody’s, about 30 percent of both public and private schools were reported to already be running on deficits. Moreover, as the stock market struggles to find its footing, schools may not be able to fall back on their endowments, as many individual investors are losing confidence in the economy.
A higher education trade group predicted that there would be a 15 percent drop in national enrollment next fall, resulting in a $23 billion revenue loss. Online instruction does not bring in the same revenue as in-person classes. Small, liberal arts schools have been hit the hardest, as most of their funding comes from tuition alone.
As a result of the economic crisis at hand, incoming freshmen are faced with a difficult decision between going to college or staying home. With 22 million Americans filing for unemployment within the last month, and many having their salaries frozen or reduced, the financial aid package offered may be the deciding factor for prospective students.
For most schools, financial information forms, like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the College Scholarship Service Profile, required submission before the coronavirus pandemic began. Consequently, these forms will not reflect the tax information and income reflected in the current circumstances.
To prevent students from making hasty decisions, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reported that many colleges, including Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Wesleyan University and Longwood University, will extend their decision date. Instead of requiring a decision by May 1, which has been termed “National College Decision Day,” students will have until June 1 to make their decision.
As for those who do not receive an adequate financial package, experts agree that appealing for more financial aid is the best thing to do. By sending updated tax forms, or a letter explaining how the coronavirus has impacted one’s financial situation, families can increase their eligibility for more need-based financial aid.
Shannon Vasconcelos, a college finance consultant at College Coach, explained in a blog post that appealing for more financial aid is not as distressing as it sounds. “Families may be surprised how often colleges say ‘yes’ and send a few more thousand dollars their way as an enticement to enroll,” Vasconcelos said. “There is very little downside to asking, so you might as well make the request.”
As for Virginia, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the middle of a budget plan that was approved for its second year back in February. The plan included a $111.8 million for the state’s public colleges that would keep their tuition flat in an effort to help low-income families and those with outrageous student loans. For schools that did not accept the proposal, their money would go back into the state’s general budget.
To avoid raising the cost of attendance, many schools are cutting budgets wherever they can. Universities are also freezing salaries, suspending discretionary funding and slowing hiring cycles.
David Greene, the president of Colby College in Waterville, Maine, explained to The New York Times that the later students come in the fall, the greater the deficit will be next semester. “If we had to start in October instead of September, that is not a real problem for us,” he said. “If we had to start in November instead of September, that’s probably not a real problem,” Greene said. “What if we started in January and went through August? That would be a very different kind of problem.”
Most colleges are hoping to see students back on campus in the fall, but with the coronavirus pandemic reaching its peak in the United States, many wonder if it will fall down in time to safely return to school. This situation is likely to impact the tuition rates and fees in the school years to come.