Wisconsin private universities estimate $245 million in COVID-19 related losses

    Beloit College (photo by Robin Zebrowski / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
    Middle College at Beloit College Photo by Robin Zebrowski CC BY 2.0

    Wisconsin’s private colleges and universities estimate a combined loss of $245 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (WAICU). 

    Suspended room and board payments, the impact on fundraising and the cost of reconfiguring classes led to an estimated $81 million loss for the spring 2020 semester and a projected $26.7 million in losses through the summer. Losses for fall 2020 are projected to be $137.3 million dollars. 

    A spokeswoman for WAICU said the projection assumes students will be on campus in the fall, but measures such as smaller class sizes and hybrid online/in-person classes will add expenses.

    There are 24 WAICU members located across the state covering 55,000 students and 18,000 employees. 

    “Campuses have sent students home; the entire curriculum has been reconfigured in an online format; courses requiring work-experience are being redesigned to maintain the highest standards of excellence while keeping students on track to graduation and to a career; room and board payments are being refunded,” a WAICU infographic on the data said. “These costs are significant, but the human cost is even greater on students, faculty, and staff.”

    The biggest losses so far have been due to unrecoverable room and board fees and the impact the crisis has had on fundraising. 

    Schools estimated they would take in $37 million less through the spring and summer due to students moving out of dorms and requiring refunds. 

    They also took a hit of an estimated $23.7 million because of changes in the stock market, decline in donor engagement and the inability to hold fundraising events, according to the infographic.

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    The WAICU data also warns of ripple effects down the line due to the pandemic, such as program cuts and job losses. The state’s private schools produce 46% of Wisconsin’s nursing degrees and 54% of the medical degrees, the infographic states, if the schools face drops in incoming tuition money — programs may be cut. 

    “WAICU institutions rely on tuition to operate and losing even a relatively small number of students will have significant implications for programming, putting our future workforce at risk,” it states. 

    Warnings of program cuts from the state’s private schools echo similar warnings from Wisconsin’s public university system. The University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross recently released a blueprint for the future of the system that would involve cutting duplicated programs across the state’s 13 comprehensive campuses.

    Henry Redman
    Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.