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How higher education’s own choices left it vulnerable to the pandemic crisis

How higher education’s own choices left it vulnerable to the pandemic crisis

The Hechinger Report

Jon Marcus, Editor in partnership with Mikyung Lee/For NBC News

August 4, 2020

When Missouri Western State University declared a financial emergency in the spring, it was widely assumed to have been the fault of the coronavirus pandemic.

But that was only part of the problem.

In the decade since the last recession, Missouri Western had kept hiring, increasing the number of full-time faculty by 5 percent as its undergraduate enrollment was plummeting by nearly 25 percent. Other spending, too, continued to go up. The university overspent its budget by millions of dollars in each of the last five years. Cash reserves sank.

Some members of the institution’s own governing board were surprised when they were confronted with these facts. By then, the president who had overseen that spending had retired.

“The problem that we have right now has not happened this year. It absolutely hasn’t,” his successor, Matthew Wilson, told the board in April during a contentious meeting to plan deep cuts after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the campus. “It’s the previous budgets that weren’t done correctly.”

Left vulnerable when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Missouri Western is now cutting nearly a third of its faculty and at least 98 majors, minors and concentrations, including in English, history, chemistry, biology, philosophy, sociology, political science, computer technology, music and art.

Like many businesses, universities and colleges are struggling with a crisis that was not of their own making. But, according to observers and statistics, many left themselves exposed to it with questionable management that was.

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This story also appeared in NBC News

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