The state of Minnesota universities in the pandemic is not exactly optimistic. The Star Trib summarizes our financial situation.
The University of Minnesota has frozen tuition for the next academic year in hopes of attracting a large freshman class during the pandemic. As of last week, fall freshman enrollment was trending nearly 10% behind where it was this time last year.
The Minnesota State colleges and universities system took a $17 million hit from room-and-board refunds and could lose up to $13 million more this spring from canceled events, summer camps, travel and trainings.
The University of St. Thomas, Minnesota’s largest private college, has already lost $8 million and won’t get to replenish with revenue from marquee events such as the Special Olympics.
Public and private institutions are mapping out sobering scenarios that foretell steep revenue and enrollment losses. They are planning for a fall semester that might look anything but normal; some colleges envision a mix of online and in-person instruction, while others may delay the start of the semester until students can enjoy a traditional campus experience.
Yeah, that’s our situation — we’ve been asked to map out how we would manage online instruction for the fall. I’m not a fan of the idea of delaying the start of classes until the pandemic recedes, since that implies that we can accurately predict when things will be back to normal. If I had to make a prediction, it’s that we should be OK for the fall, except that, as we’re seeing right now, at the first sign of a decrease in infections our selfish, mindless populace, goaded by idiot Republicans, will stampede to opportunities to suck faces with their fellow damfools, undoing any gains and blowing all predictions to smithereens, making it impossible to know when the situation will actually improve. So I have no idea what we’ll be doing at the start of the school year. The administration will make some preliminary decisions in June, which I’m sure they’ll revise in July, and then update in August.
At least there’s some cautious optimism about the future of the University of Minnesota.
The University of Minnesota took an immediate loss of nearly $35 million when it issued room-and-board refunds to students who had to move off campus. Early projections show the U could lose up to $315 million in revenue if the pandemic lasts into fall.
President Joan Gabel and members of her cabinet have taken a voluntary 10% pay cut, and hiring and salary increases have been frozen.
Minnesota’s land-grant institution should be able to withstand even the worst hit, thanks to deep reserves, a strong credit rating and manageable debt levels.
“We have some ability to make decisions that can help us work into a new reality,” said Brian Burnett, the U’s senior vice president for finance and operations.
I’m glad the administration has taken a voluntary pay cut, since they were just asking us faculty to take one. I could reluctantly accept a 10% cut — I also voluntarily took a 50% pay cut the year before last, to indulge in a sabbatical, and there was some savage belt-tightening around the Myers household that we’re still trying to recover from, so it’s going to hurt, but we have to face this New Reality where we’re all going to be hurting.
I do still have to worry a bit about how the UM will deal with their losses — one approach they could take would be to contract down a bit, starving their branch campuses (like mine!) to save the Twin Cities core. That seems unwise to me — centralizing during a pandemic seems risky, especially when their far-flung branch campuses (like mine!) are a kind of social distancing already, and when some of our lightly populated rural counties have fairly low rates of infection. There have been zero reported cases of coronavirus in Stevens county so far, although I suspect part of the reason for the low number is the lack of testing.
If I had to suggest a place to cut, top of my list would be…football. I was dumbfounded that one of our Minnesota sports writers, Patrick Reusse, suggested the same thing — that UM should hit football hard.
This is a university that exists through the residents of Minnesota. Those residents are men and women, football families and gymnastics families. There’s an obligation to continue to present valid sports opportunities for a wide spectrum of students.
It’s absurd FBS teams can offer 85 scholarships — with another 25 walk-ons for Power Five programs. That scholarship number should be 70 (or fewer), and with 90 bodies total.
It’s absurd P.J. Fleck came here making $1 million (with incentives) and, in his fourth season, he will be kicking off a new contract at $4.6 million.
Also absurd: The ever-growing football support staff; a $170 million athletic facility devoted largely to football, and a drain to the university’s more vital fundraising; and colleges footing the bill as the developmental arm of the NFL, the most profitable sports league in U.S. history.
The first post-virus gouge in athletic budgets should come in football — at Minnesota, and across the Power Five landscape.
I fully agree with that first paragraph. We should encourage college sports, they’re important to a lot of our students, and part of a liberal arts education is to promote a healthy body and mind. Football, however, has become a bloated cancer on higher education with gross inflation of its budgets.
The University of Minnesota head football coach is paid $3.6 million per year, which is insane. And it’s going up to $4.6 million next year! That one guy is getting the salary of 60 professors at my university. He does not have 60 times the intelligence or education of your average professor, nor is he working 60 times as hard.
We’re also paying a massive army of assistant coaches. That $170 million facility is called the “athletes village”, with weight rooms, indoor practice field, sound-proofed basketball courts, a cafeteria just for athletes, and their own medical facility. We have a stadium, capitalistically named the TCF Bank Stadium, that cost $300 million to build. I don’t think TCF Bank paid for it. I know our students were levied a $50 per student per semester fee to help cover it.
Maybe the pandemic will compel the universities to rethink the frivolities they’ve been throwing cash at for decades.