ACE, Higher Education Groups Outline Costs of Reopening Campuses This Fall in Letter to Senate
July 06, 2020

A hearing June 4 in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions looked into the question dominating the higher education community this summer: how to safely reopen colleges and universities this fall.

Following up on several issues that arose at the hearing, ACE and 38 other higher education groups sent a letter to the committee July 2 to detail the costs involved in reopening college campuses in the midst of the pandemic.

As the associations wrote, colleges and universities were among the first segments of our society to close in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and “we are keenly aware of the unique symbolic, economic, and educational value of opening our campuses.” They said that their member institutions are committed to reopening in the fall and, with assistance from Congress, will work to provide a quality education as safely and as expansively as possible.

However, the costs associated with reopening are substantial. Based on an analysis of information from dozens of institutions across sectors and geographical regions, ACE estimates that colleges and universities will spend approximately $74 billion to prepare for the fall semester. The information did not include items such as declining state support, loss of charitable donations, enrollment declines, and financial need for students given the difficult financial environment, so the $74 billion estimate is likely to be significantly lower than the actual costs institutions will face this year.

“While residential institutions often face higher costs because they must prepare for students living on campus full-time, even institutions that adopt an online or hybrid approach will face significant additional expenditures,” the groups wrote. “Schools expanding their online programs report significant new expenditures to upgrade campus IT systems; distribute laptops so that all students have sufficient access to courses; provide tutoring and health services remotely; convert library materials into online formats; retrofit classrooms for virtual instruction; and buy additional video equipment for live streaming. Other new expenses are far less obvious. For example, some schools have reported purchasing anatomage tables for their science programs, which allow students to engage in virtual dissections without a cadaver. These tables cost $100,000 each.”

The letter also notes that of equal importance is the increased need for student financial aid, without which many students will not be able to return to campus in the fall regardless of measures taken by institutions or the federal government. Of particular concern are low-income and first-generation students, who are the most likely to interrupt their educations during a severe economic downturn.

To watch a webcast of the hearing, see the committee’s website. Among the witnesses were Christina Paxson, president of Brown University and Mitch Daniels, president Purdue University, who have been visible proponents of reopening physical campuses, as well as Logan Hampton, president of Lane College, an HBCU in Tennessee.

COVID-19 Policy Developments

Learn more about the higher education association effort to urge Congress and the administration to craft a comprehensive response that addresses the challenges students and campuses are facing.

Read more