COVID layoffs, furloughs begin hitting colleges hard

University of Akron has made some of the deepest cuts to its professorial staff of any college
By: | July 21, 2020
Even while contending with COVID economy budget shortfalls, some colleges and universities are freezing tuition for the 2020-2021 school year. (GettyImages/Andy Sacks)Even while contending with COVID economy budget shortfalls, some colleges and universities are freezing tuition for the 2020-2021 school year. (GettyImages/Andy Sacks)

Colleges and universities in recent days have ordered a wave of layoffs, furloughs, program reductions and other budget cuts as the COVID outbreak saps higher education enrollment, fundraising and other revenues.

The University of Akron has made some of the deepest cuts to its professorial staff of any college, laying off about 100 faculty members and a fifth of its workforce, The New York Times reported. The Times noted several other cuts:

  • The University of Texas at San Antonio has laid off 69 instructors
  • University of Michigan, Flint cut more than 40% of 300 of its busiest lecturers
  • Ohio University has conducted three rounds of layoffs.

The University of Massachusetts system, facing a $264 million shortfall, announced Monday that it will lay off 6% of its full-time employees and furlough thousands more, WBUR reported. 

Administrators also plan to cut spending on construction and supplies, according to WBUR.


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The system has also frozen tuition for the 2020-21 academic year, President Marty Meehan announced on the system’s website.

Meehan said the university’s spending plan “is in balance at a time when many other colleges and universities, public and private, find themselves in great financial jeopardy.”

“This required the university leadership to make difficult choices,” Meehan said, “but we take these actions to preserve stability and meet the long-term needs of students,”

Planning for a worst-case COVID economy

The University of North Carolina system on Monday directed its campus chancellors to submit plans for 50% “worst-case scenario” budget cuts, The News & Observer reported.

University Board Chairman Randall Ramsey has also asked campus chancellors to examine closing campuses and canceling fall sports, according to The News & Observer.

“These plans should not be general in nature,” Ramsey wrote in an email obtained by NC Policy Watch. “They should be very specific and include details of which programs will be shuttered, which positions will be furloughed, laid off or eliminated entirely and all other details of how a 25% to 50% spending reduction will be handled.”


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Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, will lay off 96 employees, including 25 professors, as it grapples with falling enrollment and a projected shortfall of $20 million in a $75 million budget, The Buffalo News reported. 

The college will also eliminate low-enrollment majors, primarily in the humanities, according to The Buffalo News. 

And in Nevada, lawmakers could cut up to $135 million from the state’s higher education system, a move that would likely lead to layoffs and cuts in student services, and call into question some community colleges’ “ability to adequately deliver basic instruction,” The Nevada Independent reported

University of Nevada, Las Vegas officials says the school will have to increase class sizes and offer fewer courses, and scale back peer-mentoring programs and co-curricular activities.  “These additional reductions are likely to disproportionately impact our first-generation students, students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and other underrepresented students,” said a budget document cited by The Nevada Independent. 


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.