When Pennsylvania resident Hali Rose Kohls was in high school, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to get a degree. But after visiting the Greensboro, North Carolina, campus of Guilford College in 2011, she changed her mind. She calls the seminar classes she attended “amazing” and says that the school’s Quaker values inspired her. As a double major in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, and sociology and anthropology, she found the “social justice-based liberal arts curriculum” eye-opening, and for several years after completing her degree, she sang the college’s praises to potential students.
But Kohls’s enthusiasm has flagged thanks to plans announced in late 2020 to plug a $7 million deficit by firing 36 people, including 15 tenured professors, and phasing out 19 of 42 majors, including math, political science, physics and modern languages.
Since the announced cuts, Kohls has joined with faculty, students and other alumni in a coalition to Save Guilford College.
They’ve already had an impact. After a faculty vote of “no confidence” in both the Board of Trustees and college President Carol Moore, Moore resigned and a new president was installed in February. Kohls is now cautiously optimistic. “We will not abandon our roots, but will find other ways to move forward. All of the proposed cuts were based on projections about students’ intended majors,” she told Truthout, “but many kids don’t know what they want to study when they’re in high school. I’m a good example of that. I didn’t realize that I could major in gender studies until I got to Guilford.”
COVID-19 Blamed for Cuts
By all measures, after COVID shuttered campuses last March, both public and private colleges took a financial hit; many responded by firing instructional staff and administrative, maintenance and food service personnel. In some cases, tenured professors were also fired, and many schools closed or consolidated departments that were deemed “under-performing.”
As a result, in August 2020, there were 337,000 fewer people employed by U.S. colleges and universities than there had been six months earlier, in February. The rationale was reduced enrollment: The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that the overall number of students dropped by 4.5 percent between Spring 2020 and Spring 2021. Community colleges saw the most drastic decline, at 9.5 percent.