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Pandemic costs UC San Diego $150 million; university plans return to mostly in-person courses for fall

UC San Diego's chancellor says the coronavirus crisis could slow the university's enrollment boom, delay construction on planned buildings and require UCSD to make broad cuts in its budget.
(UCSD)

Chancellor: School and hospitals are expected to lose an additional $200 million to $300 million over the summer.

UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla says the coronavirus pandemic has cost the school and its hospitals and clinics $150 million and that it expects to lose an additional $200 million to $300 million over the summer.

He also said April 28 that the crisis could slow or stem the university’s meteoric enrollment boom, delay construction on planned buildings and require UCSD — the county’s third-largest employer — to make broad cuts in its budget. It has already instituted a hiring freeze.

Khosla also announced that the university plans to return to mostly in-person courses for the fall quarter, which begins in September. But he noted that some students — particularly those from other countries — might not be able to make it to the La Jolla campus because of visa restrictions and other issues, requiring UCSD to offer many online classes.

Even more drastic changes could occur if the virus surges. But Khosla saw a silver lining, saying, “We came into this situation in a very strong financial position and we’re going to come out of it the same way.”

UCSD will try to minimize the risk of the virus spreading by eliminating triple occupancy in its residence halls and apartments. The school’s financial models suggest the number of students housed on campus could slip from a record 15,000 last fall to fewer than 13,000, which would cost UCSD as much as $20 million a year each of the next four years.

The university’s long-term models say the pandemic could eventually cost its main campus $300 million to $400 million, while the school’s hospitals and clinics could lose $200 million to $250 million.

“We’re going to take a hit, and we’re working to be as financially prepared as possible to handle it,” said Khosla, who is finishing his eighth year as chancellor.

The coronavirus, recent rains and other factors will cause a roughly one-month delay in the completion of the $627 million North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, which includes accommodations for 2,000 students. Construction is continuing on a separate design building and an engineering complex. But if the pandemic causes additional problems, UCSD might have to delay the start of construction of Triton Pavilion, the $350 million complex that will become the new center of campus.

Until the pandemic hit, UCSD had resisted offering online education, keeping the emphasis on the campus experience. That’s proved to be hugely popular. The university has been struggling to keep up with unprecedented growth. It has added nearly 12,000 students since 2007, reaching a record 38,736 last fall.

Much of the growth has involved international students, who pay more than twice as much as California residents to attend UCSD. The money has helped underwrite the operation of the university and cover the tuition costs of some state residents.

UCSD has focused special attention on recruitment in China, which is rich in STEM students who match the university’s research mission. A record 5,617 Chinese students enrolled last fall, but the increase has slowed in recent years due to strained relations between China and the United States.

Kholsa told the Union-Tribune last fall that he wasn’t concerned about the downshift, saying, “We are not losing sleep over Chinese students not coming here. ... The rest of the world is open to us and people care about what we do and know what a great institution we are.”

But he said last week that he was concerned about keeping Chinese students — as well as students from other countries —and that he had reached out to them and their families to assure them that UCSD is a safe place to study.

“I just want to make sure that our foreign students understand that we are supportive of them and welcoming of them,” Khosla said.

Good foreign relations have paid off for UCSD, especially in recent weeks. Khosla negotiated a deal in which Joseph Tsai, co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, donated $1.6 million in medical-grade supplies that the campus could use and share with the region’s hospitals.

Tsai’s family lives in La Jolla, and his wife, Clara, is a university adviser.