Nearly 570 students have withdrawn from the University of Colorado Boulder since the beginning of the fall semester — double the number who left last year — amid surging COVID-19 cases, a rapidly changing learning environment and quarantine orders.
Between Aug. 24 and Thursday, 392 continuing students and 177 first-year students withdrew from CU Boulder. During the same time period in 2019, 172 continuing students and 113 first-year students withdrew, said Melanie Parra, a campus spokeswoman.
At the start of the semester, 6,931 students lived in on-campus housing and CU’s Bear Creek apartments. In the past two months as cases climbed, 374 students canceled their on-campus housing contracts, with 215 of those students withdrawing entirely and 159 moving out but remaining enrolled, Parra said.
University officials on Friday said they did not yet know how much of a financial toll the withdrawals will take on the campus, which already saw a $66 million budget hit this year compared to last, largely due to COVID-19. Lower-than-expected student enrollment this fall forced steeper budget reductions across the campus.
Freshman enrollment at CU Boulder declined 12.3% from last year, dipping from 7,113 students to 6,235, according to a September CU budget presentation.
“While the number of withdrawals are, thankfully, modest, they’re still impactful, and it means the campus is going to have to take actions to address the budget gaps,” said Todd Saliman, CU’s chief financial officer. “The campus has plans to do that, but no one wants to implement those plans because they’re reductions.”
The withdrawal numbers represent yet another cost to the university from the novel coronavirus. Fallout from the virus has slashed state higher education budgets, drastically altered the college experience for students and university employees, and caused CU Boulder to top Colorado’s list of COVID-19 outbreaks with more than 1,300 confirmed or probable infections among students.
Jordan Medina, a 21-year-old CU Boulder senior, received an email before the semester began informing him three of the political science courses that he needed to graduate were no longer being offered.
Three emails provided to The Denver Post show Medina’s courses on Western European politics, technology, society and the future, and current affairs in international relations were all canceled due to the “fiscal impact of COVID-19.”
“I went into panic mode,” Medina said.
Parra said because of COVID-19, departments had to redistribute their resources from low-demand classes and electives to classes more central to the curriculum.
“While these changes had fiscal impacts in the sense that they may have required moving funds away from one type of course and into another type of course, they were not driven by budget cuts,” Parra said.
After a Zoom meeting with his adviser, Medina decided the best thing for him to do was withdraw for the fall semester and hope things were better come spring.
“I’m not regretting it now that I see everything playing out,” Medina said.
Within the past couple weeks as cases of COVID-19 soared on campus, CU Boulder officials implored students to stop partying, instituted a recommended two-week student self-quarantine, forced nearly 200 students out of their dorms to make room for more isolation space, switched to remote learning for at least two weeks and partnered with Boulder County Public Health to mandate a ban on all gatherings of 18-to-22-year-olds in the city.
Instead of finishing up his senior year, Medina is living in Brighton with his girlfriend and her family, working as a security guard handing out face masks outside a local Walmart.
Medina still hopes to return to CU come spring and said he isn’t upset with the institution.
“It’s just kind of a bad situation,” Medina said. “CU needs to pay their bills so they need students to pay the full amount of money for regular college. Then people who specifically went to CU as a party school probably just wanted to party so that’s why they’re there. I guess no one was ready for COVID, even six months after it started.”
Matt Siddle, a 21-year-old CU Boulder senior, was more critical of the institution he withdrew from three weeks into the semester after he said he realized he wasn’t learning much. His professors weren’t accustomed to the new technologies demanded by remote education, he said, and much of his class time was spent troubleshooting technical difficulties rather than teaching.
“I got massively over-stressed and realized I was paying out-of-state tuition for what was basically a worse version of Khan Academy,” Siddle said, referring to the online education organization.
Siddle, who lives in Louisville, said because he withdrew three weeks into the semester, he received 60% of his out-of-state tuition back. Out-of-state tuition for the 2020 academic year in Boulder is $36,546 for 30 credit hours.
Siddle said he doesn’t anticipate the campus will control the COVID-19 outbreak by the spring semester, so he expects to start his senior year as a computer science major anew come fall 2021.
In the meantime, Siddle said he was fortunate enough to have a financial cushion to pursue making a documentary film on e-sports.
“I like Boulder, but I’m considering going elsewhere,” Siddle said. “How they’ve handled COVID has tarnished their reputation in my eyes. Why didn’t they shut the school down earlier? You knew it was a bit of a farce this semester in terms of the education quality, so why did you let people pay you for a YouTube tutorial?”
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