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A photo illustration with students replaced by silhouttes.

As student headcount shrinks, universities across the U.S. are cutting jobs and programs.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | David Schaffer/iStock/Getty Images

As the academic year wound down for many institutions last month, administrators at a handful of colleges outlined big changes, with job cuts and program reviews underway or on the horizon.

Cuts announced in May are among the deepest reported so far this year. Layoffs, program reductions and other belt-tightening measures are largely being driven by the usual suspects: declining enrollment and increased operating costs.

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Here’s the latest on cuts announced at multiple colleges last month.

Columbia College Chicago

Amid declining enrollment and long-running financial difficulties, Columbia College Chicago is laying off 70 staff members and eliminating 32 vacant positions, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The college faces a deficit that is expected to increase to $38 million by the end of the current fiscal year, according to the Tribune. Departments affected by the deep cuts include admissions and enrollment, advising, the career center, counseling services, and the library, union representatives said. Cuts to the counseling office mark a reversal by officials, who announced in a March email that “the college is not planning reductions in student counseling.” Now the college will partner with outside counseling services.

The cuts follow a precipitous decline in enrollment since the late 2000s. Columbia College Chicago enrolled 6,646 students in fall 2022, a number that has dropped by almost half since 2009, when it enrolled 12,127 students, according to the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

CCC has operated at a loss for the last three fiscal years, financial documents show.

Brandeis University

Citing declining enrollment, administrators at Brandeis University announced last month that they plan to eliminate 60 jobs over the summer to reduce operating costs, The Boston Globe reported.

The cuts are reportedly concentrated in staff and administrative roles.

“Though the changes we need to make will be difficult, they are necessary to allow us to direct our resources to the areas that will help ensure our long-term financial stability, meet the challenges of changing demands in higher education, and attract excellent students to Brandeis for years to come,” officials wrote in a letter announcing the cuts, which The Globe obtained.

The newspaper reported recent enrollment at roughly 5,300 students, which is down from past years. Brandeis hovered between 5,700 and 5,800 students for much of the last decade, according to the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

The cuts come as Brandeis grapples with a projected $2 million budget deficit for the next academic year. Officials are reviewing graduate programs for other potential cost savings.

St. Cloud State University

Deep cuts are on the horizon at St. Cloud State University, where officials plan to cut dozens of academic programs and 57 faculty jobs due to financial woes, Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reported.

Administrators have said the cuts are needed to correct a structural budget deficit. MPR reported that STCU lost $18 million last year and is projecting a $5.5 million loss this year—a number that would have likely reached $15 million if not for an infusion of state funding.

The plan, proposed in early May, would axe 46 of St. Cloud State’s 136 degree programs. Majors on the chopping block include criminal justice, economics, gender and women’s studies, Spanish, sociology, and physics. Additionally, administrators have proposed cutting 50 of the 85 minors St. Cloud State offers. The proposed cuts follow a less severe round of program and job reductions announced last year, also due to finances.

Delta State University

Financially struggling Delta State University plans to cut 21 of its 61 programs. Majors slated for the chopping block include chemistry, English and history, Mississippi Today reported.

Delta State President Daniel Ennis said last month that there are only 238 students enrolled in the 21 targeted programs. As part of the cost-cutting, administrators plan to eliminate Delta State’s College of Arts and Sciences and restructure or consolidate various other budget units across campus.

The program reductions will also come with job cuts. Delta State has already laid off 17 staffers and will leave 49 vacant positions unfilled; an unknown number of faculty members will also lose their jobs.

In a memo last month announcing the changes, Ennis wrote that the university had spent more than $50 million in FY 2023 while taking in only $47 million in tuition, fees and state funds.

“Three million dollars had to be found to balance the budget; however, those dollars were drawn from one-time funds that have now been expended and are no longer available for use,” he wrote. “Going forward, we will only spend what we take in.”

Ennis, who joined Delta State last June, said at a town hall meeting covered by Mississippi Today that the university had only 24 days in cash reserves on hand when he arrived on campus.

University of Lynchburg

Late last month the University of Lynchburg announced a restructuring effort that will shutter 12 undergraduate and five graduate programs, shrinking faculty and staff numbers.

The university said it plans to cut 40 staffers now and 40 faculty members over the next three years. Administrators are also reducing the number of vice presidents from nine to five.

“Other schools are cutting programs, and, for the sake of our future, we must too. But we are going a step further. For the sake of our people —our students, faculty, and staff—we are restructuring our entire university around them,” President Alison Morrison-Shetlar said in a video announcing the changes.

Morrison-Shetlar noted the strain colleges are under due to enrollment challenges, the bungled FAFSA rollout and waning public confidence in higher education. She said while Lynchburg is not in a crisis, it is “at a crossroads,” necessitating efforts to cut under-enrolled programs.

Eastern Oregon University

In an effort to trim almost $5 million in operating costs, a budget plan approved at Eastern Oregon University last month will eliminate four staff positions and leave 23 others unfilled.

Three of the four staff cuts are administrative, according to a May presentation to the Board of Trustees. The $4.8 million in budget reductions amount to an 8.41 percent cut, local media reported.

Viterbo University

Struggling financially due to declining enrollment, Viterbo University plans to cut 25 positions to help ease the $5.5 million deficit projected for the current fiscal year, local TV station WEAU reported.

Of the 25 positions to be eliminated, 14 are vacant. Two other positions will be frozen.

“The changes we are making are intended to ensure the sustainability of Viterbo in a rapidly changing environment while preserving our commitment to student success,” President Richard C. Trietley wrote in a statement announcing the cuts.

He noted that in the last 5 years, enrollment decreased by 13 percent, from a two-semester average of 2,551 students in 2018–2019 to 2,226 in 2023–2024.

“This decrease has necessitated an adjustment in our workforce to serve a smaller student body,” he wrote.

Northland College

Northland College, which has teetered on the brink of closure in recent months, laid off nine faculty members last month amid restructuring efforts, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Northland College declared financial exigency in April amid its struggles.

The small private college announced last month that it would stay open despite closure concerns and make certain changes, including reducing its number of majors from 24 to eight.

Columbus State Community College

Columbus State Community College has eliminated 14 jobs as it grapples with an expected budget deficit, local TV station WSYX reported.

While none of the jobs were faculty positions, two were in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the TV station reported. Officials told WSYX that Columbus State is in the second year of a three-year recovery plan from the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, which strained many institutions. Other factors precipitating the cuts include a reported $6.8 million budget shortfall and less state funding than expected.

In a statement published by WSYX, officials referred to the cuts as part of a “targeted restructuring process to realign our student success teams for maximum impact.” Additionally, officials noted that “the college has also implemented other efficiency measures, including a review process before filling open positions, to steward our resources to support our mission.”

St. Norbert College

St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, which laid off 12 professors in March, is considering cutting tenured faculty members due to financial issues, the Green Bay Press Gazette reported.

The college announced last fall that 41 employees would be laid off, though the newspaper reported that the final number St. Norbert cited was 35. The Green Bay Press Gazette noted that officials did not specify the number of faculty members that may be laid off this time around.

The small, private college has struggled in recent years to maintain enrollment, which fell from 2,099 students in fall 2018 to 1,749 in fall 2023, the newspaper reported. It also noted a projected budget deficit for the college of $4.2 million in fiscal year 2026.

University of Southern Maine

The University of Southern Maine announced last month that it would cut an unspecified number of positions as it drops an undergraduate scholars program, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Though administrators did not indicate the number, the newspaper identified at least five jobs likely to be eliminated, some affiliated with the Russell Scholars program, which the university website describes as an undergraduate learning community. With the termination of the program, the positions of director and associate director have been eliminated as well as three other management jobs.

“We acknowledge that this is painful for those directly affected, their teams, students, and our community, which is why we have done everything possible to avoid position eliminations until now,” USM President Jacqueline Edmondson wrote in an email to the Portland Press Herald.

Buffalo State University

Sweeping program cuts are coming to Buffalo State University, which plans to eliminate 37 programs that together enroll only 34 students, according to an announcement from officials.

Of the 37, 27 have already been approved for elimination, while another 10 are being reviewed for possible deactivation by the spring semester. No layoffs are reportedly tied to the program cuts, according to Buffalo Business First, but Buffalo State currently has a hiring freeze and a voluntary separation program in place as it navigates a $16.5 million structural deficit.

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