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As the Coronavirus Scrambles Colleges’ Finances, Leaders Hope for the Best and Plan for the Worst

The Covid-19 pandemic threatens the health of millions across the country, and it has pitched the remainder of the academic year into chaos and uncertainty. While students wait to learn how, or if, they can finish out their terms, college leaders are beginning to grapple with the longer-term financial ramifications.

But “there’s so much we don’t know about this,” says Kent J. Chabotar, president emeritus of Guilford College and an expert in higher-education finance. No one can say how serious the coronavirus’s effects will be or how long they will last, which makes it hard to predict outcomes.

Some key considerations, however, are emerging: Revenue from tuition may be in for a shock, budgeting has become unpredictable, and the length of time that campuses must remain closed will help determine the size of the financial challenge that awaits.

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