Higher Education in Turmoil: Financial Pressures and Program Cuts Mark the Start of 2024


The dawn of 2024 brought grim news for several higher education institutions grappling with financial pressures and enrollment challenges. Amidst the ongoing turmoil, universities across the United States are forced to make tough decisions, including program cuts and job layoffs. This article delves into the recent developments, shedding light on the struggles faced by institutions ranging from large public universities to prestigious private colleges.

Higher Education in Turmoil: Financial Pressures and Program Cuts Mark the Start of 2024
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Financial Woes at the University of New Hampshire

The University of New Hampshire (UNH) recently announced plans to cut up to 75 employees as part of a broader initiative to reduce expenses by $14 million. Tania deLuzuriaga, UNH's executive director of public relations, cited intense competition for enrollment and increased costs as primary challenges. The personnel cuts are concentrated in departments like information technology, the campus art museum, and the health and wellness clinic.

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Program Eliminations at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNC Greensboro) has identified 19 programs for elimination after a recent academic portfolio review, citing low enrollment for both graduate and undergraduate programs. While the number of job cuts remains unspecified, faculty members contest certain details of the program review, including inaccurate enrollment numbers that impact majors like religious studies and Russian and Chinese languages.

Eastern Gateway Community College's Struggles

Eastern Gateway Community College (EGCC) is cutting 28 jobs in an attempt to save $1.3 million. The college, previously entangled in issues related to a free college program, faced scrutiny from accrediting bodies and the U.S. Department of Education. In August, EGCC announced the termination of the free college program, and the state auditor is currently investigating financial irregularities at the institution.

Layoffs at Queens College Amid Budget Reductions

Queens College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, laid off 26 full-time faculty members in response to budget reductions. CUNY administrators mandated enhanced deficit reduction plans after a $23 million budget cut by New York City mayor Eric Adams. The abrupt nature of the cuts, occurring just before the spring semester, has drawn criticism from faculty members.

Youngstown State University's Program Cuts

Youngstown State University is set to cut five programs, leading to the elimination of 13 faculty positions due to low enrollment. The affected programs, including art education, geography, music composition, jazz studies, and public and professional writing, enrolled only 175 students with 23 graduates in the last academic year. Protests from students and faculty have emerged in response to these cuts.

Goddard College's Move Online

Goddard College is shifting temporarily to online programs, ending low-residency options on campus. Enrollment issues, student preferences, and rising costs are cited as driving factors behind the move. The transition will also result in the layoff of a dozen staff members, marking a significant change for the institution.

Connecticut State Colleges & Universities Offering Buyouts

The Connecticut State Colleges & Universities system anticipates a $140 million deficit in the next fiscal year and is offering buyouts to encourage retirements. Around 550 employees are eligible for the retirement incentive, raising concerns about job replenishment. The buyout plan has sparked a no-confidence vote in CSCU chancellor Terrence Cheng.

Hiring Freeze at the University of Chicago

Despite being one of the wealthiest institutions with a $10 billion endowment, the University of Chicago has imposed a hiring freeze due to a $239 million budget deficit. Rising interest payments and a debt of $5.8 billion contribute to the financial challenges. Details on potential layoffs are expected when the university releases deficit-reduction plans this spring.

Budget Cuts at Pennsylvania State University

Penn State plans to cut an estimated $94 million from the 2023-26 budget, driven by flat state funding and declining enrollment. While specific details on job cuts remain unclear, PSU president Neeli Bendapudi emphasized the need for a new approach to address ongoing challenges.

The challenges faced by these institutions underscore the complex landscape of higher education, where financial pressures, enrollment struggles, and budget deficits converge. As universities navigate this tumultuous period, tough decisions regarding program cuts and job layoffs become unavoidable. The impact on students, faculty, and the broader academic community raises concerns about the future of higher education in an era marked by economic uncertainties and evolving educational paradigms.

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