COVID-19 is shaping UC, CSU financial stability, experts say

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Representatives of the UC and California State University systems discussed the current and future financial impacts of COVID-19 at a livestream Monday.

During the discussion, which was part of the Berkeley Conversations series, the panelists reflected on the challenges the COVID-19 crisis poses to higher education, as well as the potential opportunities for innovation this unique situation offers.

“COVID-19 has already begun to shape the financial stability of both the UC and the CSU system,” said George Blumenthal, director of the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education and moderator of the discussion, during the event.

According to UC Merced Interim Chancellor Nathan Brostrom, the financial loss to the UC system due to COVID-19 totaled $600 million in March, with a projected impact of $2.5 billion by June 30. CSU Fresno President Joseph Castro added that the losses to the CSU system are currently about $230 million.

According to Brostrom, short-term financial losses come from a variety of sources, including lost revenue from housing, sporting events, education abroad and medical centers.

The COVID-19 crisis will also have long-term financial impacts on public education due to changes in the national and state economies, Brostrom added.

According to James Hyatt, a senior research associate at the Center for Studies in Higher Education, the future impacts of COVID-19 on the UC system include potential reductions of the workforce, employee furloughs, salary reductions and a drop in research funding.

In response to a question about these potential furloughs and layoffs, Brostrom said previous furlough programs enacted during economic crises have been helpful financially, but have also raised issues of inequity and decreased morale.

Brostrom and Castro agreed that tuition increases should be a last resort.

“I don’t think (tuition increases) are likely in the near term because the impact on our students and families is going to be so hard-hitting,” Brostrom said during the livestream. “I actually think we’ll see an increase in the number of students who rely on financial aid.”

According to Castro, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has already provided “helpful relief” for CSU campuses, allowing for an increase in emergency grants for students. Castro added, however, that higher education institutions will need additional support from the government over the course of the COVID-19 crisis.

The panelists agreed that the COVID-19 situation could also serve as an opportunity to evolve higher education.

“We’re not going to go back to where we were in March. We’re going to a new place, an exciting place, in my opinion,” Castro said during the event. “We will use the summer to get better at providing online education. The more we grow accustomed to it and develop new tools, the more this can be positive for everybody.”

Alexandra Feldman is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.