U. of I. expects $158M loss — at least — as state’s public universities ask for more federal aid

Leaders of Illinois’ public universities say they’ve already lost more than $220 million — and the figure is growing every day.

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University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen is pictured in this May 18, 2015 file photo.

University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen

AP Photos

The University of Illinois System expects to lose an estimated $158 million by June due to the coronavirus, as leaders from other public state universities also reported millions of dollars in losses this semester.

Last week, the system’s president, Timothy Killeen, joined the presidents of eight other public state universities in a letter to state’s congressional delegation to ask the federal government for additional help, saying the schools had already suffered a combined $224 million loss this spring.

But costs have already mounted since then, and U. of I.’s share of that total has already gone up, Paul Weinberger, the director of federal relations for the system, said this week.

“It continues to grow every day,” Weinberger told the Sun-Times.

Schools in the U. of I. System, which enrolled more than 88,000 students last fall at campuses in Chicago, Springfield and Urbana-Champaign, will see greater losses if the pandemic continues to limit on-campus enrollment through next fall, although those cost estimates are still being compiled.

The University of Minnesota, for example, said it could see a $300 million financial hit — 7.5% of the school’s budget — if the pandemic continues into the fall, according to the Star Tribune.

In the letter from Illinois schools, university leaders said the losses stem from refunding students for room and board after campuses were shut down, the cost to move to remote learning and lost revenues from canceled events, closed facilities and delayed grant funding.

Larry Dietz, president of Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, said that as of two weeks ago, the school’s losses totaled more than $16 million.

“I would imagine you could probably add at least a couple [million] to that,” Deitz said Wednesday of the rising total.

University leaders said that the $14 billion in nationwide grants for higher educational institutions — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — approved by the U.S. Congress on March 27 was only a quarter of the amount that education leaders had said was needed.

“I think we’re all struggling with what the existing expenses are and what the future ones are going to be,” Deitz said. “I think for some places it may be the difference between having good packages that will allow us to keep the workforces that we have, our faculty and our staff are very important to us, it provides the quality services, the quality instruction that our students and families expect.

“It’s also important in terms of infrastructure, we have terrific needs now in terms of technology and moving all these classes online, and the list goes on. So it’s very important.”

Schools in Illinois and around the country are concerned that they will see a drop in fall enrollment, in part because international students — which typically pay far higher tuition than other students — may fail to return to the United States for school after the pandemic. Nearly 16,000 international students attend U. of I., which has one of the biggest foreign-student populations of any public university in the country.

A recession in the country could also put college out of financial reach for in-state students.

Dietz said although his school has about 21,000 students enrolled, its fall numbers “have slipped a little bit” already.

“I think that would be true for most universities in the state,” Deitz said. “And I think all of that is related to uncertainty and concern about loss of jobs for families who were planning to send their students.”

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