As bad as the COVID-19 lockdown has been in any number of sectors of the US economy, colleges and universities have been hit particularly hard. Restaurants and movie theaters have physical plants that continue to cost them money regardless of whether they are serving food or showing movies. Hotels have it even worse, because they are far more expensive to maintain. But colleges and universities have it worse still. Their physical plants include not only housing and dining facilities, but also recreation areas, classrooms, and expansive grounds. In addition, colleges and universities have staff that often number hundreds of times that of hotels.
Unlike restaurants, movie theaters, and hotels, colleges and universities do have the ability to offer their product remotely. Students with their faces planted firmly into Zoom calls have become the new normal pretty quickly. But when a quarter to almost half of a university’s income comes from room and board, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly that those Zoom classes are gutting college and university revenue streams.
Making matters worse, foreign students are staying home in droves because of both the virus and US policy. This might not sound like much, but universities obtain more than twice the revenue from the typical foreign student than from the typical American student. Foreign students have been subsidizing American students for years. And now they aren’t.
The upshot of all of this, according to NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway, is rather disconcerting. In examining some 442 US universities, Galloway estimates that more than 20 percent could fail because of the lockdowns, and that another 30 percent will struggle to remain open. That’s 50 percent of US colleges and universities at very serious (or mortal) risk.