Press Release

Four Months into the COVID-19 Crisis, College and University Presidents Remain Cautiously Optimistic about the Financial Fallout, Focusing Strategic Budget Cuts on Areas Not Directly Related to Students or to Core Educational Mission

Washington, DC—August 3, 2020—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) today released “Responding to the Ongoing COVID-19 Crisis and to Calls for Racial Justice: A Survey of College and University Presidents,” a new report on how college and university presidents are currently planning to address both the financial fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the campus implications of the national protest movement for racial justice. The report presents findings from a national survey of members of the AAC&U Presidents’ Trust, a broad and diverse network of higher education leaders representing four-year public and private institutions and two-year community colleges, that was conducted between June 25 and July 12, 2020, in partnership with ABC Insights.

The survey explored several aspects of presidents’ strategic planning related to COVID-19 that had been explored in a prior survey of Presidents’ Trust members that was conducted in March 2020. The new report examines changes between March and July and provides a comparison of findings in those areas.

“College leaders across the country are engaged in comprehensive planning to ensure the safety of their communities while preparing to deliver a curriculum in the fall, whether in person or remotely, that positions students for success,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “One of the most compelling findings from AAC&U’s most recent survey is the percentage of leaders focused on issues of racial justice, reflecting a recognition that if higher education is to emerge strengthened by the ongoing crisis touched off by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must intentionally prioritize quality, equity, and inclusion in any of the possible futures ahead of us.”

July 2020

  • The vast majority of presidents still plan to maintain tuition and implement hiring freezes.
  • Fewer presidents now anticipate cuts to academic programs and faculty positions.
  • Fewer presidents now expect severe (>15%) revenue losses.
  • More presidents now expect to lay off staff, implement across-the-board cuts, and cut administrative jobs.
  • More presidents now expect to cut benefits.

New Findings (July 2020)

  • 1 in 5 presidents expect no change in fall enrollment.
  • Presidents of small private institutions are most likely to bring students back for face-to-face instruction in the fall.
  • The vast majority of presidents anticipate racial justice–motivated student activism, particularly at large institutions.
  • Presidential planning to address issues of racial injustice range from open dialogues to long-term structural changes.

“Presidents are facing a tsunami this fall—from COVID-19, the recession, and racial unrest,” said Paul Friga, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill strategy professor and co-founder of ABC Insights. “It will be the most challenging year for higher education in our history. Our survey reveals key actions universities must take related to transforming their entire operating model to maintain quality education for students but significantly decrease administrative and academic spending. I do fear that many presidents are underestimating the magnitude of the change needed, but I am optimistic that we can come out of this in a better place.”

The complete findings from both the July and March 2020 surveys are available online at

The AAC&U Presidents’ Trust is a membership group committed to advancing and advocating the value of a liberal education for all students in recognition of dual commitments to equity and to maintaining a thriving democracy.

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association dedicated to advancing the vitality and public standing of liberal education by making quality and equity the foundations for excellence in undergraduate education in service to democracy. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,200 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

About ABC Insights

ABC Insights is a consortium of universities dedicated to making higher education more efficient and effective. They work collaboratively to provide benchmarking data to improve decision-making. For more information, articles, and slide decks related to strategies for adjusting universities in light of the COVID-19 crisis, visit