Will University Budget Cuts Affect Your Academic Plans?

In the midst of college applications, a senior year course load, and extracurriculars, understanding the complex financial situations of the colleges and universities on your college list may not be top priority. However, with the barrage of recent news articles, town halls, and open letters to university faculty about dire financial decisions, budget cuts, and overall uncertain futures, it’s becoming evident that this is not something for any college-bound teen (or their parents) to ignore. So, what exactly is happening in higher ed and who is most “at risk” for having their academic endeavors impacted?

According to Michael Nietzel, a former university president and Senior Contributor at Forbes, “The financial woes facing higher education continue to spread, evidenced by several colleges and universities recently announcing they would be forced to cut their budgets to regain fiscal stability and in some cases to remain open.” While certain schools are making headlines and garnering national attention for more severe financial hardships and drastic responses, experts are saying they may simply be the “canary in the coal mine” for a problem that will affect small private colleges and large research universities alike.

Low enrollment, the aftereffects of the pandemic, and inflation have caused major financial issues for many schools.

Though those aren’t the only factors at play, these are three major factors cited by many colleges and universities when addressing the deficits they’re facing and the actions they’re taking. While the source of these problems are recognized and understood, Nietzel states that the current situation requires a “serious financial reckoning that accounts for what it actually costs to employ all its administrators and staff and offer all the academic programs, student support services, research projects, community outreach and nonacademic activities like athletics that most colleges provide.” For many schools, reining in overspending and overbuilding and making difficult budget cuts in the immediate future will determine if they’re able to climb out of the hole they’ve found themselves in.

Several universities are unsure if they can remain open, while others are slashing majors and programs.

West Virginia University, West Virginia’s largest university, is one of the schools in the spotlight for their finances. Last month, the school board voted on some major cuts, which included axing 28 majors and dismissing 143 faculty members. This massive reduction included the entire world language department as well as one-third of their education department faculty. This was on the heels of cuts made this very summer in which 132 staff positions and 12 graduate and doctorate programs were slashed. WVU undergraduate students with over 60 credits whose majors were cut will be able to graduate with their degrees as planned, while students with less than 60 credits are “finding alternatives.”

The thought of applying to a university, being accepted, thoughtfully choosing a major, and beginning to pursue that path – only for it to be cut – is surely a nightmare for many college students. It’s a nightmare that WVU’s president Gordon Gee believes other students should brace for, stating, “This is a time of great change in higher education, and we are leading that change rather than being its victim.” He went on to warn that if other schools refuse to make similar changes, they likely face a “bleak future.”

Students pursuing more “at risk” majors need to be aware of how their education may be impacted.

As the WVU case likely highlights, certain majors are considered more “vulnerable” than others in the case of budget cuts. Many humanities and liberal arts programs, like world languages, journalism, performing arts, history, are particularly at risk, though any of the “less popular” majors are on the chopping block. (Ohio Wesleyan recently cut planetary science, geology, computational neuroscience, pre-optometry, and a few chemistry and biochemistry majors, so no major is entirely safe.)

In short, students pursuing more “niche” majors, especially in liberal arts and humanities, should be aware and on the lookout for news regarding their chosen university’s financial standing and outlook. That said, higher education experts are describing the current climate as a financial “existential crisis,” and all college hopefuls would be wise to stay apprised of the situation.

As if the college application and admission process wasn’t stressful, complicated, and overwhelming enough, prospective students are also being forced to consider potential impacts of financial hardships on college campuses across the country. Fortunately, The Enrichery team is here to help you navigate this process, stay informed of current events, and, in some situations, even consider “back up” majors or alternative paths. With our 1-1 College Admissions Packages, our expert coaches will help you finalize a fully informed college list and plan for your academic future.