Of all the hard lessons being learned this past year, perhaps none is quite as painful as the one unfolding at some of this nation's colleges, as many are being forced to close their doors permanently because of the pandemic.
David Genereux is the town administrator for Leicester, Massachusetts. It’s home to Becker College, which was founded in 1784. It’s survived two World Wars and the Great Depression.
But now, this college steeped in history is about to become history itself.
Becker College announced at the beginning of April that it will close permanently at the end of the 2021 spring semester.
"When it becomes final, then it sets in. There’s a campus there. What’s going to happen to the campus?" Genereux wondered while sitting in his office a few blocks away from the school.
COVID-19 has hit this and other colleges hard. Becker didn’t have the capital finances to make virtual learning work. Like so many other schools, the pandemic pushed them into financial failure.
Two thousand students, like Brianna Cieza-Boza, are now left without classrooms come fall.
"I am the first one in my family of four to go to an American college," Cieza-Boza, 21, explained.
Navigating virtual school during the pandemic hasn’t been easy for this junior. Then came word a few weeks ago that her college will close. As this college junior to keep her grades up, she is also now having to find a new school to attend in the fall.
"I never thought a college would close, especially one I just went into," she said.
Colleges teetering on the edge right now are facing rising costs, declining enrollments and insufficient endowments.
Nearly two dozen colleges and universities have closed nationwide since 2018, impacting 27 states.
Ronny Leu with the National Education Association has lobbied Congress hard for emergency funding for higher education in the most recent COVID-19 relief bill. The money has helped, but it’s not enough, he says.
"Institutions of higher education have been underfunded for quite some time," Leu explained.
The organization's biggest concern isn’t just for the students who are left behind when a school closes, it's for the teachers, too.
"We’re talking about individuals that are losing their jobs, students losing an opportunity to learn at an institution they’ve chosen," he added.
As for town administrator David Genereux, he is working to secure the land where his town’s historic town square sits and that is owned and will likely soon be sold by Becker College when it closes.
Just another hard lesson being learned as some of America’s universities disappear.