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Tough Economy Hitting Academic Hiring and Financial Aid

If you think the academic world might escape today’s tough economy, think again. Saturday’s New York Times
reports on many institutions, private and public alike, cutting faculty
jobs, freezing new hires, reducing financial aid, and in some cases raising tuition.

The economic downturn–what former Labor Secretary Robert Reich now calls a "mini-depression"–
has reduced the returns from many university endowments, which depend
largely on investment income to fund a part of their operating expenses
and student financial aid. Vassar College in Poughkeepsie , N.Y., for
example, saw the value of its endowment drop almost 10 percent since
June. And Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. saw its endowment drop 20
percent since that time.

The bad economic prospects are forcing
students to consider public colleges over private institutions, but
states are also facing tough times as sales, income, and property taxes
go down. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed another
$65.5 million cut for the state’s university system, on top a $48
million cut already announced for this year. In New York , some state
schools have already announced tuition increases to cover budget
shortfalls.

Faculty at public and private institutions face job
cuts and hiring freezes. University of Florida has cut 430 faculty and
staff positions, and is expecting another 10 percent cut in state
funding next year. Arizona State University has ended contracts with
200 adjunct faculty. Boston University, Brown, and Cornell have
announced hiring freezes.

Some campuses, particularly private
institutions, that had previously announced more generous financial aid
for students, are finding it harder to stick to those plans. Tufts
University in Medford, Mass., has had a "need-blind" policy for two
years, where the university would admit the best qualified candidates
regardless of financial needs. Tufts has suspended its capital projects
to make more funding available for student financial aid, but that may
not be enough.

Lawrence
S. Bacow, president of Tufts, told the Times, "The target of being
need-blind is our highest priority. But with what’s happening in the
larger
economy, we expect that the incoming class is going to be needier.
That’s the real uncertainty."

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