How higher education’s own choices left it vulnerable to the pandemic crisis

This article was produced by a partnership of NBCNews.com and The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

When Missouri Western State University declared a financial emergency in the spring, it was widely assumed to have been the fault of the coronavirus pandemic.

But that was only part of the problem.

In the decade since the last recession, Missouri Western had kept hiring, increasing the number of full-time faculty by 5 percent as its undergraduate enrollment was plummeting by nearly 25 percent. Other spending, too, continued to go up. The university overspent its budget by millions of dollars in each of the last five years. Cash reserves sank.

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Some members of the institution’s own governing board were surprised when they were confronted with these facts. By then, the president who had overseen that spending had retired.

“The problem

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