Morehouse College Announces Layoffs, Paycuts, Potential 25 Percent Drop In Enrollment

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Morehouse
Morehouse College is reducing its workforce, cutting pay and implementing furloughs to reduce costs and offset an anticipated 2020-2021 drop in enrollment due to the covid-19 pandemic. People enter the campus of Morehouse College in Atlanta on April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Morehouse College President David A. Thomas announced on Monday that the college is reducing its workforce, cutting pay and implementing furloughs to reduce costs and offset an anticipated 2020-2021 drop in enrollment.

The cost-cutting will impact the earnings or job responsibilities of every Morehouse employee on faculty and staff, Thomas said in a press release.

The College anticipates an estimated 25 percent decline in enrollment due to covid-19 – similar to what happened after the Great Recession.

Thirteen full-time employees will be terminated effective June 1, and 54 part-time and full-time employees will be furloughed for two months. Also effective June 1, 194 employees will face pay cuts as part of the first phase of cost-cutting. These reductions are expected to save the college $3.4 million.

The cuts are necessary for the future stability of Morehouse, Thomas said. Morehouse is the only historically Black college focused on educating men. The college is looking at consolidating academic programs. Changes will not affect the quality of instruction or student services, Thomas said.

“This is a pivotal moment for all of higher education,” Thomas said. “Those who can adapt to this new normal will thrive, while those who continue to look backwards will struggle to survive. Since even before the Great Recession, the business model of most higher education institutions has been under pressure by changing student demographics, rising costs, and the many choices technology has provided students on how to learn.”

In the wake of the pandemic, Morehouse canceled in-person instruction for its 2,200 students and gave them time during Spring Break to evacuate the campus. The College transitioned to online instruction on March 23 and is operating virtually until further notice.

“Our immediate focus will be to bring our faculty and staff back together to chart a course through the opportunities presented by this new reality we’re all in,” Thomas said in a statement. “It will require an entrepreneurial spirit and innovation in order to diversify and grow our revenue streams – while upholding our mission and celebrating the traditions and people that make Morehouse unique.” 

Morehouse agreed to give pro-rated refunds to students after closing the campus in mid-March, AJC reported. The college anticipates an enrollment decline of about 525 students for the fall semester, which Thomas said may be conducted online. 

“These initial decisions are the most difficult that I have faced in my more than 30 years in higher education. However, it is my role and responsibility to uphold the College’s mission to produce future generations of leaders who can lift up their communities and change the world,” Thomas said in a message to faculty and others.

Morehouse faced financial challenges before the pandemic, AJC reported. It announced plans in September to furlough employees to fill a $5 million budget gap but dropped the plan when faculty planned a walkout.

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The budget gap was caused by unpaid tuition and fees from about 500 students — about a quarter of its enrollment. 

Morehouse has received donations in the past, but many of those were earmarked for students, not for salaries. In 2019, billionaire tech investor Robert F. Smith agreed to pay off the student debt for the entire graduating class of 2019.

Also in 2019, Oprah Winfrey donated $13 million to a Morehouse scholarship program, bringing her total gift to $25 million since it was first implemented in 1989. It’s the largest scholarship endowment in school history. 

Thomas told AJC that Morehouse is exploring revenue-generating ideas such as a coding boot camp, programs for adult learners who didn’t complete their college degrees and public-private partnerships.