5C budget crunches loom as Harvey Mudd and Scripps freeze hiring

Two students carrying mattresses walk up a street.
The 5Cs are spending millions of dollars to provide room and board refunds to students who were forced to leave campus in March. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

Millions of dollars spent on room and board refunds and other responses to COVID-19 are beginning to strain budgets at the Claremont Colleges. And as uncertainty mounts about how the pandemic will affect the summer and fall, the colleges are beginning to restrict hiring and other new expenditures, following the lead of many other schools across the country.

Scripps College has suspended non-essential spending in the current fiscal year and implemented a 10 percent budget cut for the 2021 fiscal year due to financial hardships associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Scripps President Lara Tiedens told students via email Tuesday. 

The college will also freeze hiring for new and vacant positions, as well as halt salary increases for current faculty and staff. The college has also reduced compensation for Tiedens and its senior staff.

Tiedens said the “transition we experienced this semester was costly,” citing room and board refunds, campus event cancellations, technology provided to support online classes, cleaning, moving storage, emergency travel and a decline in the college’s endowment and charitable giving.

Tiedens also noted that “most, if not all,” summer events will be canceled this year, which typically serve as an “important source of funds” for academic year programming. The college also anticipates an increase in financial aid requests due to the economic impact of the pandemic. 

The school’s financial losses may not end there. Tiedens said additional measures will be necessary if the fall semester is delayed or disrupted, resulting in additional financial losses for the college. 

“I believe that the above actions, while difficult, will preserve the College’s financial stability in the short-term and position us to recover fully when on-campus instruction resumes,” Tiedens said. Scripps, along with the rest of the 5Cs, decided to move classes online last month. 

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Other colleges have enacted or are considering similar measures. 

Harvey Mudd College also froze hiring of new and vacant positions until further notice, including visiting faculty for the fall semester, HMC President Maria Klawe told students via email Friday.

The college anticipates an elimination of salary increases going into next fiscal year, according to the HMC COVID-19 webpage for staff. The college “could be forced to discuss staff furloughs as a last resort,” after exhausting all possible budget cuts.

“We are asking all faculty and staff to avoid non-essential expenditures that are not crucial to our mission,” Klawe said, noting that the college has already granted approximately $3.3 million in prorated refunds for room and board for students that left campus.

The college’s endowment is down approximately $40 million, from roughly $328 million in June 2019 to $280 million as of March 31, due to a decline in investment value and the college’s spending policy payout, according to the college’s website.

Pomona College has frozen nonessential hiring but will continue to recruit “key hires,” President G. Gabrielle Starr said via email Monday.

The college will recruit the new hires “until we have a more complete picture of what our campus, our region and our society will be like in the summer and fall,” Starr said.

Pomona has spent between $6 and $7 million in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Starr said, the largest share being the cost of room and board refunds. The school spent $200,000 to assist students with travel, $160,000 to help students with moving and transition costs, $230,000 for technology and $130,000 in facilities expenses.

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“This is a beginning — costs are certain to grow, and we will need to make tough choices to maintain our top priorities,” Starr said.

Pitzer College is spending $3.5 million on room and board reimbursements, treasurer Laura Troendle said in an email to students Friday.

“To cover this amount, the college is using savings from the limited use of campus and decreased food costs, but we are also drawing from institutional emergency savings,” Troendle said.

Pitzer has not yet enacted a hiring freeze and will continue to fill vacant faculty positions for next year and review proposals for new faculty. The school has not yet made a decision about future tenure track searches, dean of faculty Allen Omoto said via email.

“These searches typically do not start until late summer, so we are continuing to assess our budget and academic situations before making final decisions,” Omoto said.

Claremont McKenna College has not yet released information on hiring freezes or its budget for the coming academic year and did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

Lauren West contributed reporting.

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