The University of Connecticut, and higher education in general, are in a precarious spot. The COVID-19 pandemic has been financially disastrous for universities across the country, and the Donald Trump administration’s antagonism toward many universities have made many university officials and faculty nervous about the place of higher education in our society. Given all this, it is critical that president-elect Joe Biden and the incoming administration uphold and support higher education.
Now more than ever, college is an essential part of American society. A bachelor’s degree is considered an almost necessary prerequisite for many jobs, and graduate degrees open doors to many other opportunities. Moreover, research at universities produces a great deal of innovation for society across all disciplines. Especially with public-private partnerships becoming more popular — including at UConn — we can see that higher education is one of the bedrocks of the way we live.
Despite this, many universities — again, including UConn — are having their very existence threatened. Many students have been unsatisfied with the lack of a traditional college experience amid online classes and empty campuses. Many university officials are in full “survival mode.” There isn’t enough money for less popular sports teams, and scholarships are being threatened by a lack of funding. That isn’t to mention austerity cuts that are sure to hit in the coming months and years across institutions. And President Trump has repeatedly shown hostility to international students through travel bans and attempted COVID restrictions, even when they support our universities and economy in research output and teaching.
We are in a dire place, and we need a light at the end of the tunnel. Will a new government provide this?
There is some hope. Incoming First Lady Jill Biden is a community college educator herself, and, in fact, she will continue working as such. Jill Biden has stated she intends to work on increasing access to higher education as first lady.
Trump was not the most friendly to international students, a group making up an increasingly large part of many universities, especially at the graduate level. At public universities, international students help with revenue for the schools as well, making for a mutually beneficial situation. Supporting international students at American universities will help higher education in various ways. While it remains to be seen how Joe Biden acts in supporting international students, we have some hope for a different administration supporting them better than the current.
Joe Biden has also already made many promises about canceling some student loan debt, though his success at this may be limited by Congress. Supporting higher education may very well be one of the incoming president’s priorities, but above all else, UConn and other universities need substantial and sustained financial help.
UConn is facing a $76 million deficit this year due to the pandemic, even in the best case. As a public university, our main recourse is to ask the state for money, which the university has done. However, as the whole world is struggling against the strain of COVID-19, this is unlikely to be enough. Higher education needs another substantial stimulus package to offset losses across the board. Federal coronavirus relief is the only way many colleges and universities will be able to stay afloat, especially as campus closures drag on for longer and longer.
Otherwise, many schools will be forced to close their doors forever. Even if UConn isn’t among these, we too, are at a cliff. Without aid, we foresee the university being forced to cut services and programs essential to student and academic life. We foresee downsizing and strained class sizes as a result. We foresee changes that will take decades to undo. UConn and higher education in general needs to see support from the incoming federal government in order to survive, let alone flourish.
Will this support be given? We at The Daily Campus sure hope so, but only time will tell.