The economic impact of COVID-19 is being felt across almost every sector imaginable, including higher education.
Gloria Betcher, Chair of the National League of Cities University Communities Council, joined Yahoo Finance’s “The Ticker” to discuss the economic effects of COVID-19 on college towns and why more flexibility in funding is needed to help boost its economies.
“I think that one of the things I’m hearing from other college and university towns is that we’d like to see some more flexibility in the funding,” Betcher said. “When we get those funds, we’re the ones on the ground who have the best sense of where that money can best be used to stimulate our economies.”
Betcher noted that much of the funds from the Congressional Cares Act have been allotted to cover expenses related to the coronavirus. Though necessary, she believes that university communities need to get funds to citizens who are not able to pay their utility bills as well as for infrastructure projects that were placed on hold due to budget cuts.
“Every community is going to be different,” she said. “At this point, we don’t have the flexibility to use the funds as needed on the ground in the individual communities themselves.”
Betcher told Yahoo Finance that Ames has about 67,000 residents in the community, which includes around 37,700 college students studying at Iowa State.
“When an entire population leaves town all at the same time, we have a hit to the economy,” she said. “We have an inability to have an accurate census count. We have the potential because of that inaccurate census count to lose funding for a decade to come because of the way federal funding is allotted based on census numbers.”
Betcher said that the ripple effect of the pandemic has greatly impacted the Ames community, which saw a $9.1 million revenue shortfall already by the end of the fiscal year 2020 and expects to see more in fiscal year 2021.
“I know that other communities like Athens, Ohio, where the Ohio University is an even higher population percentage,” she said. “And that community is seeing cuts in faculty and staff. That budget is being severely curtailed because of the loss of staff, the loss of students.”
“For every student, who’s not here paying utility bills or purchasing in our shops or eating in our restaurants,” she said. “We lose funding. For every family that doesn’t come for graduation or for sporting events or for conferences and meetings, we lose revenue. And all of those are hitting college towns.”
When speaking to the importance of federal and local partnerships, Betcher envisions a partnership based on trust and flexibility.
“When I think of federal-local partnering, what I’m thinking is that the federal government should listen to our communities and what we need because we have the research institutions that are developing the new PPE that are helping frontline workers,” the councilwoman said. “We’re producing the next business owners, leaders of nonprofit organizations, doctors who may come up with the next vaccine for COVID.”
“We need to have that funding provided from the federal government in order to ensure that our economies stay stable. So the partnership is again, based on flexibility and trust that we, as the communities that are impacted, know how best to our economies to keep those research projects on track and continue to build for a national recovery.”
Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.