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Universities consider contingency plans for fall semester, project staggering losses

Delaware Public Media

Colleges and universities in Delaware are taking a hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Just how big financial losses will be depends on whether schools are on-campus or online this fall, and several institutions are waiting to make that call. 

The University of Delaware (UD) has lost around $60 million in revenue this semester due to the virus. Assanis says next year the loss could be as much as $100 million, depending on factors such as whether students can return to campus or the school can run winter session. 

The school could face additional losses to fundraising and the endowment.

UD President Dennis Assanis announced during a live-streamed town hall Monday the university is planning for an on-campus fall semester with decreased social interactions— but that the course of the outbreak over the next few months may change that. He said the University is also considering a late Oct. 1 start to the semester or other hybrid online and in-person solutions. 

He says a decision will likely be made in mid-July.

“If we can’t operate the dorms and the dining and the housing, we already know the numbers from this semester,” said Assanis. “It’s not a pleasant experience.”

Assanis adds UD is “not immune” to national trends.

“We don’t know how many of our students we offered admission are really going to matriculate, how many of our students are going to be returning from the continuing body of students,” he said. “Higher ed expects 15 percent to basically not be in a position to come back to the campuses this fall because their parents lost jobs and other economic issues.”

UD is already seeing a roughly six percent decrease in deposits from incoming freshmen — and expects the incoming class to be 700 students short of its 4,450 target. 

Delaware State University (DSU) has not yet made a call on whether fall semester will be on-campus or online, but is also considering a late start date. 

DSU spokesperson Carlos Homles says the university is projecting a $3 million dollar loss if students return to campus at the normal time or for a late start. But the loss could jump to $17 million if the school is forced to operate remotely.

“You have your revenue that you get from residence halls. You have your food service, debt service on buildings that whether the buildings are filled or not we still have to pay that debt service,” he said. “We have a new residential hall that we just opened this year.” 

Holmes emphasizes the uncertainty that remains.


"It's still early," he said. "I think we have to learn a lot more in terms of how this pandemic is progressing in terms of the numbers, especially here in Delaware. We also have the factor of now we have some reopenings taking place. What impact is that going to have? Is that going to drive the number up? Are we going to have to backtrack? Nobody knows."

A spokesperson for Delaware Tech says it will follow the Governor's directives regarding the fall.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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