The Financial Impact of COVID-19 on William Paterson University


Courtesy of William Paterson’s website

Isabel Birritteri, Copy Editor in-training

William Paterson University has been struggling to raise student enrollment over the past ten years and the COVID-19 pandemic has not helped. The university now has a $20 million deficit for the 2021-2022 academic year and has a plan to lay off 90-100 full-time faculty; cut four undergraduate and six graduate programs and merge The College of the Arts and Communications and The College of Humanities and Social Sciences; in hopes of having a long-term solution to the economic impact of the pandemic.

In 1990, the university received about 75% of its funding from the state of New Jersey, while students only provided about 25%. 30 years later, the roles are reversed. The university relies mostly on student tuition for its funding. With a gradual decrease in student enrollment and the pandemic causing a drop in residence life, the university has lost money. 

In 2011, there were 11,518 total students and 389 faculty members. In 2020, there were a total of 9,635 students and 377 faculty members. The university wanted to grow the amount of full-time faculty they had, but student enrollment continued to decrease while the revenue dependence on students increased. 

Salaries are the largest cost of the university. With a loss of 2,000 students over the past ten years, the number of full-time faculty present is unsustainable. 

To reduce the amount of faculty that will be laid off, the school implemented a “voluntary separation program,” in which faculty can decide to leave or retire early. With a goal of seventy-five, only thirty-five faculty members retired, giving the school a savings of $2.3million. 

Stuart Goldstein, the Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations of William Paterson, released a statement saying, “We have been transparent with the campus community in discussing that layoffs would sadly be unavoidable as we ensure that our students continue to receive an excellent education.”

Faculty will receive their notices by June 15, and their positions will be terminated by January of 2022.

William Paterson also plans to cut four undergraduate and six graduate programs, though the specifics of which ones have not been released. The programs that will be cut are those with the lowest amount of enrollment. Students currently in those programs will be able to finish their degrees at the university.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the College of the Arts and Communication was left without a dean. Since then, it has been led by Interim Dean McLaughlin Vignier. As a solution to the issue of a missing dean and the financial troubles facing the university, it was decided to merge the College of the Arts and Communication and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. 

“This decision is not one that the Administration took lightly and was the result of careful consideration of both financial and organizational circumstance, as well as opportunity,” Provost Joshua Powers stated.

Provost Powers, Dean McLaughlin Vignier, and Dean Davis of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences have exclaimed the excitement they have for what this merger means.

The fusion “will benefit students by breaking down artificial barriers that exist between the colleges,” said Dean McLaughlin Vignier at a Town Hall held on March 2. 

A solution to the student enrollment issues the university has made is to diversify the student population. At the March 2 Town Hall, Provost Powers discussed how there is a decline of high school graduates all over the northeast going to college. It is not just a William Paterson problem. With WP Online, college is more accessible to older adults with a diverse array of other responsibilities.

The program is a seven-week semester that runs all year round. So far, it has been successful, and if the university reaches its goal of a 1,700 headcount for the program in the fall, it will generate $2.6 million.

Many of these changes have caused concern among the student population. They are worried about the future of their programs and faculty. While the university claims there will be a minimal negative impact on the students, the reality of these changes will remain unknown until they are implemented.