College Towns and COVID-19: The Impact on New England

Abstract: The abrupt closing of college campuses this spring due to the spread of COVID-19 upended the lives of students and their families and disrupted the higher education sector. The impact of these closures and the questions of whether and how to reopen campuses this fall have been widely discussed. Less attention has been paid to the potential consequences for the local economies of the cities and towns that depend heavily on higher education. This issue is particularly important in New England, where in many communities, colleges and universities are among the largest employers and make an outsized contribution to the local economy. The absence of students and campus activities is a major blow to local businesses. And while New England schools generally have avoided large-scale layoffs so far, extended campus shutdowns and pandemic-induced enrollment declines could force some institutions that already are on shaky financial ground to close altogether. Continued disruption to the higher education sector could threaten even financially strong institutions. This brief examines the number of cities and towns in the region that are highly dependent on employment and commerce from institutions whose declining enrollments and low endowments make them particularly vulnerable during this period. These are the communities that are most at risk of economic harm due to major pandemic-related disruptions to higher education.

Keywords: COVID-19; higher education; economy; New England; NEPPC; college;

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Boston

Part of Series: New England Public Policy Center Regional Brief

Publication Date: 2020-06-25

Number: 2020-3