A recession is usually good news for community colleges because enrollment rises. Typically, the College experiences an influx of new students. Some are riding out a tight job market or retraining for a new career. Students already enrolled at the College take additional classes or complete degrees and certificates.
Three-quarters of economists surveyed recently by the Wall Street Journal believe that the US will be in recession by mid-2021. Others believe that a recession has already arrived.
If you pay attention to the stock market, you know that it has gyrated wildly in the last two weeks. Investors are reacting to fears of coronavirus outbreaks as the number of cases worldwide and in the US mount. Doctors are only now receiving information about the novel coronavirus, but have no effective treatments. Infectious disease researchers have developed at least eight “promising” vaccine candidates, but human testing will not begin until at least June. Should one or more candidates prove effective, mass production and distribution of vaccines could take months.
Without effective treatments, the current worldwide death rate is around 3%. That’s 30 times higher than the average annual influenza death rate. Currently, it rivals the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which infected 500M and killed between 20M and 50M people (4%-10%) worldwide.
Self-isolation and event cancellation are two of the approaches countries hard hit by the novel coronavirus have adopted to limit the spread of the disease. As of this writing, we currently have no known cases of novel coronavirus in Michigan. At least 10 EMU students are currently in “self-quarantine” after returning from a study-abroad program in Italy.
Coronavirus could stymie recession’s positive effects
When the novel coronavirus arrives in numbers in Michigan, the State of Michigan and/or local health authorities may request or require colleges, universities and school systems to close for an indeterminate period of time. A school’s faculty, staff or student populations may become sick simultaneously. Even if institutions remain open, wary students – especially those with little or no health insurance – may be unwilling to attend classes for fear of becoming infected.
Typically, people turn to their local community college to beat an economic downturn, but a pandemic upends that strategy. To ensure that WCC remains in the best possible position to assist Washtenaw County residents, it needs all available resources. We are in the earliest stages of what could be a nasty pandemic. This is not the time to take on new debt. It may be prudent to immediately delay financing for “Advanced Transportation Center” until we better understand how the novel coronavirus will affect Washtenaw County broadly and WCC in particular.
Photo Credit: National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/National Institutes of Health