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Minnesota State System faces financial, enrollment impacts due to COVID-19 pandemic
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Minnesota State System faces financial, enrollment impacts due to COVID-19 pandemic

Devinder Malhotra mug


Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra may not be able to travel the state as usual this year to visit the communities surrounding the systems’ campuses, but he’s making sure to reach out and update them about the COVID-19 response and what the future looks like for the systems’ institutes.

The campuses are planning on the possibility of large decreases in enrollment, along with millions of dollars lost in revenue as they enter into the upcoming semesters.

“Our key message this year I want to convey across the state is that there is a lot we don’t know. And a lot of the information is still evolving,” Malhotra said. “And we really don’t know what the future will bring. But even in these uncertain times, I want to let you know that one thing is certain. And that is that every one of our 30 colleges and seven universities of Minnesota State will be open in fall, and we’ll be ready to welcome students, and we will adapt as necessary to safely serve them, and continue to provide them affordable exceptional education.

“Even though we may be working remotely, we are still continuing to provide extraordinary education to our students in these extraordinary times,” he said.

Malhotra said Friday that he was surprised by how much has changed within the past two months, from study abroad and travel being canceled to now 95% of classes no longer being completed with face-to-face contact.

The remaining 5% of classes, many of which he said are in career technical education, have been changed into alternative formatting as much as possible.

“It’s just remarkable and amazing how our faculty, staff, our presidents and their campus leadership came together and through creativity in the spirit of innovation and I must say incredibly hard work, our faculty and staff migrated many thousand courses to remote delivery to finish the spring semester for our students,” Malhotra said.

“It has blown to smithereens that old myth that higher education institutions, can’t adapt and change quickly,” he said.

Malhotra praised Winona State University President Scott Olson for his ability to lead the campus and community through this hard time.

“He’s there as a leader of the region, not only just the institution, as a leader of the region and of the communities, and he’s there at the table, shaping the cultural, social economic agendas of these communities and helping them move forward,” Malhotra said.

So far, the focus of everyone in the system has been helping support the students as they finish the current semester.

Planning has started for the summer and fall semesters, though, with summer being taught through alternate delivery methods, while fall is still full of unknowns.

For the summer, classes that will require in person-teaching will be moved back to the end of the season to allow for time for possible slowing down of the COVID-19 spread and the relaxing of social-distancing requirements.

While there wasn’t a large decrease in spring enrollment, summer enrollment has been impacted in the system overall.

Malhotra said that there are about 8% to 10% less students enrolled on average this summer than there was last summer.

WSU is an exception, he said, with higher enrollment this summer than last.

Looking ahead to fall, three options are being considered. There will either be minimal disruption to classes; social distancing and safety protocols still in place; or even more highly restrictive protocols to follow.

If it’s the middle ground option, then the system will have to consider how many students will be allowed on campus and how hybrid instruction can be possible.

For the other two options, life will either go back to normal on campuses or majority distance learning will have to continue.

For fall enrollment, the system is bracing for possibly a significant drop in students. While normally estimates can be made based on past semesters, that is no longer possible in this situation.

Malhotra said that in the past if unemployment has been high, then enrollment has gone up, but with anxiety related to COVID-19, that may not be the case this time.

Greater amounts of financial aid will be available to help support students who are interested in attending the institutes.

Looking at the finances for the system, Malhotra shared that millions of dollars are being lost due to the pandemic.

From March 1 to June 30, due to additional expenses and lost revenue, the system has lost $35 million to $40 million. This loss comes from financial impacts like residential living and meal plan refunds.

Additional expenses include having to more thoroughly clean the buildings to help fight possible virus spread.

As for long-term financial impact, if enrollment for the next academic year goes down by 5%, about $74 million is expected to be lost.

If enrollment goes down by 20%, though, the lost finances could reach about $279 million.

This negative impact could be damaging for the institutions, as they were already facing financial difficulties.

System leaders are continuing to also focusing on the Legislature’s bonding bill, where $150 million is being requested for asset preservation and $121.2 million is being requested for campus projects.

Locally, WSU is hoping to receive $3.2 million of this money for the design of its Center for Interdisciplinary Collaboration, Engagement & Learning.

According to the WSU website, “the plan is to demolish Gildemeister and Watkins Halls and build a new 73,000-square-foot building. The new CICEL building will provide more useful spaces for classrooms and labs, reduce operating costs and create a new greenspace that invites the community into campus and meet sustainability goals. In fact, CICEL will be the first Net Zero Energy and carbon neutral building in the Minnesota State system.”

For more information about the Minnesota State system, visit

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