Financial Outlook for NC Independent Colleges

NCND was able to ask Dr. Hope Williams some questions about what impacts NC independent colleges and universities are experiencing. She has been President of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) since 1992 and part of the organization since 1986.

NCICU is made up of the 36 private colleges and universities across the state and represents them in matters of state and federal public policy. Dr. Williams also serves on the Governor’s North Carolina Education Cabinet.

NCICU talks impacts of NC independent colleges
Image courtesy of the NCICU website.

Prior collaboration skills has proven useful for NCICU campuses.

NC independent colleges and universities across the state are fortunate to already have a close working relationship. This includes participation with NCICU and prior experience working on projects such as grants and professional development. Williams explains they were able to begin collaborating “immediately on addressing the problems associated with COVID-19.” Working together to exchange ideas and solutions during the pandemic has proven useful for institutions across the state. Technology has allowed for administration to meet virtually, and often.

Unanticipated Expenses In Response to COVID-19

When campuses across the state made the decision to move to online earlier at the beginning of the pandemic they incurred unanticipated expenses. Equipping students and faculty with the necessary technology for virtual learning was one of the initial costs. Additionally, while some revenues were necessary to fund buildings and other services, many colleges provided refunds for room and board. 

Many revenue-producing activities were canceled in the spring, and some are this fall. Williams explained these are “important funds colleges use for a variety of purposes, including for student scholarships.” Colleges and universities are facing ongoing sanitization and cleaning expenses as well. Other expenses include accommodating dining halls, classrooms, and residence halls for appropriate social distancing. 

Expected Revenue Losses

Enrollment at UNC system schools is down for the upcoming academic year, what about for private schools in the state? Williams told NCND that some campuses have experienced enrollment downturns, though others have many or more students planning on attending this year.

Students and parents alike have voiced their desire to return to as much of a normal learning environment as safely possible. The value of in-person learning includes factors beyond the classroom, such as during mealtimes, at clubs, and in residence halls. This “broader educational experience,” as Williams describes, has been a tremendous influence in students returning to campus.

Housing requirements for many private colleges previously included on-campus living for first-years, and some for all four. These policies were a huge source of revenue for many schools. Colleges are adapting to the pandemic by moving to one student per room and in some cases, dropping on-campus requirements. How a campus is determining the best course of action varies by school, though this will generally cause another loss of revenue.  

Who Is Being Impacted Most: NC Independent Colleges

The state provides tax-funded financial support to UNC campuses and community colleges. Funding allows for extremely low tuition for in-state students and provides many with need-based financial aid. In fact, in-state tuition for the state continues to rank in the top 10 cheapest in-state tuition, on average. 

Students at independent colleges and universities are also able to receive state-funded financial aid. These students also receive more than $700 million a year on behalf of the 36 independent colleges and universities. NCICU assists many students by seeking funding for scholarships to allow them to attend an independent college.

The pandemic has disrupted many families’ financial stability across the state. Many families have to factor in financial considerations when deciding whether to enroll this year. Which schools does this impact most? Those with large numbers of students in need of financial assistance, such as HBCUs. This is another impact of the pandemic that disproportionately impacts communities of color. Colleges are continuing to incur unanticipated expenses, and loss of revenue due to decreased enrollment is another challenge.

For more North Carolina education news, please visit NCND.

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