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College Station on list of cities vulnerable if universities close; leaders remain confident
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College Station on list of cities vulnerable if universities close; leaders remain confident

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College Station is one of 30 cities across the country that a new study says could face severe economic challenges if the COVID-19 pandemic causes universities to shut down, but local officials said they are prepared for the worst. 

Two other Texas college towns also made the Business Insider report — San Marcos and Huntsville. 

Texas A&M University holds the 12th spot on the list. The report says that the 53,150 degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduates, not including people only taking distance classes, make up 45.8% of the city’s population.

The College Station fiscal year 2021 budget, which included spending cuts across the board, was adopted last month. Officials projected that sales tax revenues could be down anywhere between $1.7 million and $4.6 million. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Kersten said that the budget was designed based on the $4.6 million projections. 

While a full closure of all A&M activities is not the exact scenario that experts had in mind when making the projection, Kersten said it is an estimate that tries to show what revenues may be if there is no football season and some sort of closures. 

“From a budget standpoint,” he explained, “we feel good about where we are in terms of trying to provide ourselves with as much flexibility as possible so that we can adjust either to positive information or negative information that may come at us in the next couple of months.”

The Business Insider report’s ranking is based on undergraduate enrollment as a share of the city’s population. Business Insider gathered data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to review 200 schools with the largest number of degree- or certificate-seeking undergraduates. The report says it is focused on schools that are mainly four-year, bachelor-earning institutions. Census population estimates from 2018 were also used and areas with at least 30,000 residents were focused on.

The way the study is designed, Director of Economic Development Natalie Ruiz pointed out, seems to assume that if school shuts down that the city would lose almost 46% of its population for an extended period of time. However, she said that when A&M went virtual in the spring semester due to the pandemic, there were still some students who remained in the area. 

Additionally, she said that more people have been supporting local businesses than before, which has been helpful for the economy. 

A&M Provost Carol Fierke said via email earlier this month that the university will “not go all-or-nothing” this semester. 

“The first classes we would move to remote-only are the very large classes in very large spaces,” she went on. “Then, if the infection continues, we’ll make classes smaller and smaller. Because we’re doing every class face-to-face and remote already, we can easily switch to remote — and back again — if things look better later in the semester.”

University officials analyze several metrics to make a decision about how to run school operations. Metrics include the number of students and employees who have COVID-19, the ability to quarantine anyone who needs a room, available childcare and more. 

As fiscal year 2020 comes to a close, Kersten said sales tax revenues have improved. He said that revenues may end up being about $300,000 higher by the end of the fiscal year than what the city projected about two months ago.

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