Costs, revenue losses from COVID-19 to create at least $50M shortfall for university

To the Students, Faculty & Staff of the University of Nebraska:

Thank you again for your ongoing commitment to our University and the health and safety of the communities we serve.

From faculty and alumni making face shields for first responders, to students helping create an app to screen COVID-19 symptoms, to our health care workers serving on the front lines, we are humbled by your leadership through this global crisis.

The pandemic will impact our University in myriad ways. Among them, unfortunately, is that we will not be immune to the economic pain being felt around the world and across higher education. Unexpected costs and revenue losses associated with COVID-19 will create significant budgetary challenges for us.

While there are too many unknowns at this stage to fully quantify the impact, housing refunds, athletic and event cancellations, frontline health care costs and other factors will result in a shortfall of at least $50 million this fiscal year. And as we prepare for next year’s budget, which begins in just over two months, our revenues are likely to take a significant hit even under the very best of circumstances.

We will meet this challenge with the care, collaboration and discipline necessary to maintain our excellence and accessibility. We anticipate difficult conversations ahead, but we will be guided at every step by our mission to provide world-class education, research and service to people in Nebraska and beyond.

The four of us have been meeting regularly, and with our leadership teams, to discuss fiscal planning. We’d like to share several steps that we are taking immediately across the University of Nebraska system:

  • Like many colleges and universities, we have implemented a hiring freeze, with exceptions only for urgent mission-critical positions.
  • Each campus and Central Administration will reduce spending by 3 percent in the final quarter of this fiscal year.
  • We are limiting travel and major purchases to those that are time-sensitive.
  • We are reviewing all capital construction projects to determine whether any can be delayed.

Each of these steps is designed to preserve as much cash as possible in the short term to help us address the challenges ahead.

We know some of you may be wondering what this means for salaries, or whether programmatic cuts are coming. We hope to have a clearer sense of our next steps once state tax receipts and other budgetary factors are known. Our elected leaders have been candid that they will have to grapple with significant financial challenges of their own. We will be a good partner, and we appreciate that state leaders have historically recognized the importance of an affordable and high-quality University.

Despite our challenges, there are several pieces of good news. The first is that we have been diligent and proactive in our planning. The greater fiscal restraint we can show now, the better we will be able to manage future uncertainty.

The second is that the recently passed federal CARES Act will provide some degree of relief to our students and campuses. While we await further guidance from the Department of Education on the use of these dollars, we have agreed that student support, enrollment and retention strategies, and mitigation of COVID-19 expenses will be among our priorities for resource allocation.

Third, we are looking for every opportunity to make a University of Nebraska education even more accessible for our 51,000 students and future generations of young people. Our tuition rates, the lowest in the Big Ten and well below our peers’, remain competitive. Yet we know Nebraskans, like many Americans, may be struggling in the current environment. We are working on several affordability initiatives that we hope to announce soon. Our promise to students and families is that there is no better place to be a student than here in Nebraska.

The final piece of good news is that even in this dramatically altered landscape, the work that you do every day has never been more important to the success and vitality of our state and the world. This pandemic will end. When it does, we have an opportunity to be a University system that got it right — a University that put students and employees first, that addressed challenges thoughtfully, and that looked over the horizon and considered its leadership opportunities in the “next normal” for higher education.

Capturing those opportunities will depend on our resolve and unity now. We know we have asked a great deal of you as we have adjusted together to our new reality. We ask you to keep taking care of each other, your families and yourselves.

We will continue to update you on these important conversations for the future of our University.


Ted Carter
President, University of Nebraska

Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.
Chancellor, University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center

Ronnie D. Green, Ph.D.
Chancellor, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Doug Kristensen, J.D.
Chancellor, University of Nebraska at Kearney