COVID-19 pandemic worsens financial distress for private liberal arts colleges

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Many private liberal arts colleges are struggling to survive amid the coronavirus pandemic. Enrollment is down, and they depend more on room and board revenue than larger universities.

Hundreds of liberal arts colleges were already struggling financially, but the pandemic has magnified the financial distress, says Application Nation founder Sara Harberson.

"Even the liberal arts programs at a larger university, you can see where the major academic programs that are being cut are in the liberal arts, in the humanities, in education, in majors that historically more women have pursued and majored in," she said.

There are also fewer international students, who often pay full tuition.

"Those international students were bringing in a lot of revenue for a college or university, and that’s really at a major halt, not only because of what we’re dealing with here in the U.S. but travel limitations. Even if they wanted to come to campus, they’re not able to," she said.

Some colleges with large endowments have offered tuition discounts.

"So for those current high school seniors, I think 2021 is going to be the year of merit scholarships. That is going to be the biggest strategy used by colleges and universities," she said.

Even institutions that have been known to be financially healthy are laying off staff, furloughing faculty and cutting some majors, academic programs and athletics.