Job cuts planned at University of Delaware as pandemic shortfall grows

The school now expects a budget shortfall as high as $288 million, thanks to a loss of both students and revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

University of Delaware campus

Hullihen Hall at University of Delaware's campus in Newark. (University of Delaware)

Compared to a normal September, Newark, Delaware, is a ghost town. The population usually blooms every fall as tens of thousands of students return to the University of Delaware.

But that didn’t happen this year. And it’s causing a financial crunch for the school’s budget.

The university has limited capacity at residence halls to less than 20%, and the majority of classes are being held online. The exception is instruction that requires hands-on learning, such as nursing practice and engineering labs.

As a result, enrollment has dropped. There are 10% fewer freshmen attending UD this year, and the number of returning students is also down by 5%. The small student body, no increase in tuition, plus the increase in costs to convert to virtual learning all add up to a budget shortfall that could be as high as $288 million.

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“We simply have no other recourse than to take painful but necessary personnel-related measures,” university president Dennis Assanis said in a letter sent to the school community Thursday morning. As a result, workers in multiple departments will see their hours or the jobs cut. Supervisors will notify affected employees about those decisions as soon as possible. In the next several weeks, all staff will go through a period of unpaid leave and temporary reductions to retirement contributions.

UD also will take an extra $100 million from its endowment. That’s above the $50 million in endowment funds typically used in a normal budget year.

“In total, the university is distributing more than 10% of the value of the endowment to help get through this difficult period; this level of spending is not sustainable,” Assanis said.

Earlier this year, when the plan was still to have students back on campus, UD put together a plan to cover a smaller budget gap via a variety of measures, including a salary cut for senior school leaders including Assanis and football coach Danny Rocco. Those cuts, plus a reduction in part-time workers and a school-wide hiring freeze, weren’t enough to make up the shortfall created when the university switched to a mostly virtual fall semester. That effort covered just $86 million of the then-projected shortfall. The remaining gap was to be made up with a $82 million draw from UD’s endowment portfolio.

Now, Assanis said the projected gap has grown by another $60 million. “This projection assumes we can return to more normal operations in the spring semester, with higher campus density and resumed events and athletics,” he said in his letter. “However, if the current situation continues into the spring — similar residential density, primarily online instruction, no events, no athletics, combined with pandemic-related safety expenses — we expect an additional shortfall of $60 million.”

Asssanis will offer more details on the university’s financial situation during a virtual town hall meeting on Oct. 1.

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