Community colleges are experiencing existential crises with more stimulus uncertain

It's not clear if U.S. colleges (or anyone) will get any more boost before the end of the year.
Several college leaders told Yahoo Finance that many of these schools will struggle to survive in the years to come if they don't.
"The main concern is that we will find many institutions that will serve some of the students with the greatest needs or obstacles to ... graduation. The financial viability may not be there to continue," said Carrie Welton, director for Politics and advocacy at the Hope Center, Yahoo Finance said. "We are actually risking taking these institutions off the table for students."
"We urgently need help"
The Connecticut State Colleges and Universities (CSCU) system oversees 17 institutions serving 85,000 students, and CSCU President Mark Ojakian has clamored for more government funding.
In particular, he is asking the state governor for a $ 69 million bailout.
“I assure you that the CSCU is committed to our process of rebuilding a sustainable model of public higher education in Connecticut,” Ojakian wrote in a letter to Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, “but we urgently need help building a bridge to go beyond troubled year. "
Mark Ojakian. (Screenshot: Yahoo Finance)
Enrollment at community colleges in the CSCU system fell by 15% in the autumn compared to the previous year, and at the state CSCU universities by 6%.
"I mean, it's no surprise that enrollments in the country have declined," Ojakian said in an interview with Yahoo Finance's On The Move (video above). "If you've ... enrolled in residential institutions and are losing room and board income, it's no surprise that you will see serious financial challenges that we are facing right now."
The CSCU dipped into its reserves in the summer to offer students a tuition-free community college. The program takes a last dollar approach that essentially covers the tuition fees students have after graduating from Pell Grant and federal aid.
"Reserves are thin," noted Ojakian. The school predicts a 51% decline in reserves at community colleges and around 38% at state universities by the end of June 2021.
"When we get out of the pandemic, institutions at risk will consider shutting down or merging," Ojakian said. “We work with our government partners because public higher education is vital if we are to seek economic recovery. Our colleges and universities are the engines that will help to really boost our economic development in the future. "
US President Bill Clinton speaks to students at Western Connecticut University, a CSCU school, on September 11, 2000. (Getty Images)
"I feel like I'm on a roller coaster ride"
Luis Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College, told Yahoo Finance that business negotiations are a whirlwind for schools like his trying to get by amid the pandemic.
"I have the feeling that we are on a roller coaster ride that we cannot get off from," said Pedraja, "and we don't know who is driving it."
The Massachusetts school over the past few months donated laptops, WiFi devices, open pantries, and funding to help students pay for expenses such as rent and health care after the school received $ 2.6 million from Congress CARES law passed in March. (The school also provided ten second and final year breathing technicians to help local hospitals.)
Classes for a two-year course at the school have no on-campus accommodation and are remote amid the coronavirus pandemic. It costs about $ 12,000 including books and other editions.
Pedraja found that nearly 2,700 of the school's 7,000 or so students applied for help as 47% of them - mostly women over 25 - lost their jobs. And federal money is critical to keeping many enrolled, Pedraja added, as 93% of Quinsigamond students who received help didn't withdraw in the spring semester.
The Dean of Compliance and Education Liz Woods helps prepare bags of groceries for QCC's weekly transit. (PHOTO: Quinsigamond Community College)
"There are some significant implications in terms of money that has affected our students and us," he said. “In spring we had to hold back the filling positions. I've tried to mitigate the drop in sales by focusing on wear and tear and ... just being strategic. "
Overall, enrollment at community colleges across the country has fallen 8%, according to estimates by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Quinsigamond faces a 5% drop in staff numbers, and Pedraja noted that "every 1% drop in enrollment means a hit of $ 365,000 for us".
If enrollment continues to decline fast and hard, "we could see between $ 600,000 and a million dollars ... be in the red," he added. "It just varies from black numbers to several million red numbers, depending on the means and the enrollments."
“Education is like streets; It's like libraries [and] airports. "
Despite the darkness, there's a silver lining: a combination of free college programs and creative responses to the pandemic has shown that enrollment trends may be reversed in 2020.
After the state of Michigan offered a special community college program to front-line healthcare workers, enrollments soared. More than 65,000 people have signed up to date, and that number will continue to grow before the application window closes at the end of the year.
Around $ 24 million came from the governor's Education Emergency Fund, which is part of the CARES Act.
Henry Ford Colleges will demonstrate how to wear personal protective equipment on the school's annual Discover Day in September 2019. (Photo: Henry Ford College / Facebook)
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Henry Ford President Russell Kavalhuna told Yahoo Finance that the growing interest in the Detroit School "is a light of optimism that through this tragic crisis you have people willing to invest through education."
Kavalhuna said about a quarter of school funding comes from the state and about half from enrollment. Enrollment fell by around 3.4% this year.
"There is just so much that is unknown," said Kavalhuna. “The operational challenges were significant. We laid off employees. Unlike most crises, this crisis drags on and you are constantly faced with important decisions that affect people's lives and jobs, either with insufficient information or with insufficient time. "
He stressed that state and federal aid had helped the school navigate the troubled waters of the pandemic.
“CARES funding was critical ... but was it perfect? No, ”he added. “I understand why policy makers would not allow us to make up for lost revenue. I would encourage policymakers to consider ways to achieve this goal without being so strict as to discourage institutions from serving the communities that deserve the greatest need. "
University of South Florida students Makyla Burks (L) and Eithne Silva both wear face masks as they protest in front of the Lifsey residence where USF President Steven Currall's campus takes place on July 2, 2020 in Tampa, Florida , lives. (Photo by Octavio Jones / Getty Images)
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Of the $ 14 billion allocated to higher education under the CARES Act, about $ 8.9 billion has been spent by schools to date, according to Politico. Further incentives will be crucial, added Welton of the Hope Center, although schools have not yet fully exhausted the funds from the first CARES bill.
"Just because that money has not yet been spent doesn't mean it was enough to cover the institutions' full losses," she said, adding, "the federal government underfunded higher education even before the pandemic."
The American Council on Education has called for "at least $ 120 billion for higher education" in the next economic stimulus package. The latest version of the HEROES Act, passed by the Democratic-controlled House last month but not taken up by the GOP-controlled Senate, included a total of $ 282 billion in education and childcare.
“Education is like streets; It's like libraries [and] airports, "said Kavalhun, President of Henry Ford." This is a national infrastructure that society needs. "
Continue reading:
Notre Dame back in the spotlight after the president caught in the rose garden coronavirus storm
Colleges prepare for hand-to-hand combat as enrollments and the coronavirus pandemic decline
Fewer students enrolled under COVID-19 in U.S. colleges this fall
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