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As financial struggles continue, Guilford College cuts 50 positions

As financial struggles continue, Guilford College cuts 50 positions

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GREENSBORO — Less than a week after Guilford College announced that its president would step down next year, the private Quaker college has announced it's eliminating 45 staff positions and five visiting faculty roles.

In addition, 34 vacant positions will remain unfilled, a college spokesman said. 

“This is a hard step to take,” Guilford College President Jane Fernandes said in a Wednesday news release. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial challenges for virtually all colleges and universities nationwide. We have to recognize and respond to these challenges.”

The cuts, which represent about 15 percent of Guilford’s workforce, follow furloughs that began this spring. The college furloughed slightly more than half of its non-faculty employees in early April to help save money while students finished the spring semester at home and summer activities on campus were canceled. Those furloughs are scheduled to last through at least the end of July. 

"We remain hopeful that our furloughed employees will be able to return to work after July 31," Roger Degerman, vice president for marketing and enrollment, said by email Thursday.

Guilford announced Friday that Fernandes will resign next summer as the college’s ninth president, a year before her current five-year contract is set to expire. Fernandes has been president since 2014 and is the first deaf woman to lead a U.S. college or university.

In a four-paragraph letter Friday to the Guilford community, Fernandes said she had been thinking about leaving the presidency “probably in 2022” and said she is “grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this community.”

But Fernandes is stepping down in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is putting stress on small and large colleges alike.

“Our singular focus at this point is ensuring a great academic year for our students," Fernandes said in this week's news release. "And that begins with the safe and successful opening of campus next month. We look forward to welcoming our students, both new and returning, home to campus."

The college will continue to offer its degree programs, along with the Guilford Edge, in which students take a single intensive three-week class at the start and end of each academic year. Each student has assigned academic and career advisers and must complete an interdisciplinary project to graduate. 

The college is spending $50 million to renovate dorms, athletic facilities and other campus buildings. It’s among the biggest construction efforts in the college’s 183-year history, but Guilford borrowed most of the money, something the college traditionally has not done.

Enrollment — and the tuition revenue that comes with it — has been the biggest challenge facing Guilford and other small private colleges in recent years.

Guilford’s enrollment declined every year from 2009 to 2017, according to the college’s own statistics, and again in 2018, according to federal numbers. One of Fernandes’ first big acts after arriving in Greensboro was to eliminate 52 positions in 2015 to close a $2 million budget deficit. But another money-saving move — contracting its housekeeping services to a private company — drew the ire of some Guilford professors, who protested the decision at commencement in 2018.

John Newsom contributed to this report.

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