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The COVID-19 effect on admissions & funding


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A few users on here have asked (or speculated) about the potential impact/consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on polisci PhD admissions and funding. Others, myself included, have been wondering if travel restrictions and social distancing will affect the start of our classes and TAing in the fall/autumn of 2020. It seems like it might be easier to create a master thread for this, both to coordinate questions/thoughts and for the benefit of future users who might have the same questions and might not know where to look.

The catalyst for creating this was an article I read on CNBC this morning that linked research by a Stanford University economist (Professor Caroline Hoxby) regarding university enrolment during the last recession. Here's a small bit on her research: https://news.stanford.edu/2015/03/06/higher-ed-hoxby-030615/

I think it's safe to say that we are in unprecedented times. It's easy to draw parallels to the 2008-2012 US recession and Prof. Hoxby's research and conclude that there is going to be a large influx of applications to virtually all higher education degree programs over the next few years. At the same time, this is a different "animal" from the last US recession in that it's a global pandemic with substantial barriers to entry and travel for the foreign/international students (myself included) who comprise a significant portion of US university attendees and tuition dollars.

No one in North America or anywhere else has any idea how long the closed borders, travel bans, travel restrictions and social distancing will last; I've seen wildly differing projections ranging from another four weeks to up to two years for certain aspects of the current restrictions. For those of us entering PhD programs, it's impossible to know how much or to what extent any of this will affect the beginning of our doctoral programs; a few weeks ago I would have thought it impossible to take polisci PhD coursework entirely online at any of the major programs, but this is currently the reality even at Harvard.

In terms of funding, it's safe to say (based on unemployment numbers, stock market performance and economist comments) that the United States is now in a recession. No one knows how bad it will be, but if it's nearly as bad as 2008-2012, it could also affect the funding that we receive. If this recession lasts a few months and things are back on track by Q1 2021, my guess is that there will be little overall disruption to the endowments and funding levels of major universities/programs. If this turns out to be a prolonged recession or even another great depression, all bets are off. No matter how big the endowment is, it's possible the school will make funding cuts in the interest of frugality, fiscal conservatism and survival. Harvard has a $41 billion dollar US endowment but it laid off several hundred employees due to endowment performance during the last recession (http://archive.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2009/06/24/harvard_workers_stunned_by_layoffs_of_275/). If it can happen at Harvard, it can happen anywhere, and if endowments are suffering and employees start getting let go at your school, it's probably the "canary in the coal mine" (i.e., the indicator) that academic programs will suffer from funding declines, too. 

As others have mentioned, if you have an acceptance to a program, you should probably take it. The perennial advice to only go to a top tier school and to perpetually re-apply with better GRE's/refs/EC's in order to get into the best school possible was solid advice over the last eight years, but maybe not so much in the coming years assuming that admissions gets hyper-competitive with a flood of applicants who have had a new or renewed interest in higher education sparked by the current economic woes, as Professor Hoxby's research indicates. Along the same lines, it's important to realize as you are starting your PhD that if this turns out to be a 5+ year recession, it's possible you will be graduating into one of the worst job markets in the last century. During the last recession, I was an undergrad and a master's student, and I can tell you first hand that the job market was ugly, much much worse than it was between 2012-2020. And by "ugly" I'm not just referring to academia and tenure track professor positions; I'm also referring to private sector consulting jobs at the Big 4 firms and even civil service/government jobs, which those of us straight out of grad school traditionally consider as well. Everyone talks about how bad the job market is for political scientists, but this might be especially prescient and on point in the next few years. 

Just my thoughts as a 31 year old who came of age in the last recession and now getting ready to start a PhD. Hopefully others can post thoughts/questions on here too so that there's a one stop location for this. 

 

 

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Quoting myself and updating for folks who messaged me to show support. The university that rescinded all the offers because of COVID19 has actually contacted me to ask me if I would consider atte

A few users on here have asked (or speculated) about the potential impact/consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on polisci PhD admissions and funding. Others, myself included, have been wondering if t

To anyone who is now afraid to post on here: Please do not be. I (and others) truly welcome your perspective, input and thoughts on this. It's ok to speculate. It's ok to talk about your fears, concer

Thanks for making this thread. Honestly, though I'm not sure what to expect for the fall. I've reached out and spoken with professors both at the program I'll be attending and at other schools and it seems that most schools are going off the idea that fall semester will continue as normal. At the same time though, most people just don't know. WSJ just reported that major hotspots like NYC, Detroit, and New Orleans will peak in the next 7 days, which will hopefully mean cases will start to decline and we will have some sense of normalcy by May/June. But honestly I don't think anyone has any idea about what will happen next week, much less 5 months from now. 

In terms of finances, I agree that it depends on what type of recession this actually is. If it is a short term thing (as all the government experts are saying it will be) than I would think that the actual effects would be minimal and things would be back to normal by the end of this year/early 2021. But I do know that school boards are in the process of creating and finalizing budgets for the next school year right around now, so who knows how things will play out. I also want to point out that in the CARES act higher ed got about 14 billion. Now thats a very small percentage of the 2 trillion, but it does show that Congress is at least receptive to bailing out Higher ed. Their lobbying arms are going wild here in DC with trying to get a bigger piece of the next pie that comes out. 

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Just now, Dwar said:

Thanks for making this thread. Honestly, though I'm not sure what to expect for the fall. I've reached out and spoken with professors both at the program I'll be attending and at other schools and it seems that most schools are going off the idea that fall semester will continue as normal. At the same time though, most people just don't know. WSJ just reported that major hotspots like NYC, Detroit, and New Orleans will peak in the next 7 days, which will hopefully mean cases will start to decline and we will have some sense of normalcy by May/June. But honestly I don't think anyone has any idea about what will happen next week, much less 5 months from now. 

In terms of finances, I agree that it depends on what type of recession this actually is. If it is a short term thing (as all the government experts are saying it will be) than I would think that the actual effects would be minimal and things would be back to normal by the end of this year/early 2021. But I do know that school boards are in the process of creating and finalizing budgets for the next school year right around now, so who knows how things will play out. I also want to point out that in the CARES act higher ed got about 14 billion. Now thats a very small percentage of the 2 trillion, but it does show that Congress is at least receptive to bailing out Higher ed. Their lobbying arms are going wild here in DC with trying to get a bigger piece of the next pie that comes out. 

Agree on all. I think it will depend on what happens over this summer in terms of both the ebb/flow of this virus and the accompanying restrictions, as well as the economic impacts. My biggest concern is the economy, because that has such a direct causal relationship with university endowments and program funding. Some economists are very bull(ish) and are predicting a return to "business as usual" by early 2021 if not sooner. Others are predicting this could last years and be as bad or worse than 2008 (recent NY Times article: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/business/economy/coronavirus-recession.html). 

Personally, I sincerely hope that the restrictions end soon, an effective virus vaccine is implemented in the next few months, and the economy fully recovers by this fall. With that said, I also think it is best to expect the worst and plan for/around it. If we are in for a few years of recession, it's truly anyone's guess how it will take shape and how it will impact our funding. Planning around this could include the possibility of curtailed funding after year 1 or 2 for those of us starting this fall, or perhaps it might just result in smaller cohort sizes rather than individual funding reductions, if at all. What I know for sure is that even the wealthiest schools in the world got very cheap and reduced jobs and academic funding very quickly during the last recession so I do not think it is an overreaction to consider this a possible prospect over the next few years. 

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16 minutes ago, Paulcg87 said:

Planning around this could include the possibility of curtailed funding after year 1 or 2 for those of us starting this fall, or perhaps it might just result in smaller cohort sizes rather than individual funding reductions, if at all. What I know for sure is that even the wealthiest schools in the world got very cheap and reduced jobs and academic funding very quickly during the last recession so I do not think it is an overreaction to consider this a possible prospect over the next few years. 

So a few things. I think it is more likely that schools will simply accept smaller amounts of funded students. It's a hell of a lot easier to simply accept less students than reduce students salaries. Maybe there won't be a COL increase or something like that, but I highly doubt there will be an actual reduction in salaries for TA's, RA's, and fellowships. Most universities (public ones at least) have some sort of grad student union or governing body and the salaries are the result of negotiations or some other deal between the students and administration. Because of that it is pretty difficult for the admins to cut stipends, they don't a general strike on top of everything else. This does go back to what you were saying though, grad admissions is going to get much more difficult in the coming cycles. I predict a decrease in overall admissions and a large decrease in funded offers. 

I would say though that if the downturn evolves into a full blow recession after the health crisis has passed, the impact to grad students may be minimal. The way I see it is that the result would be a decrease in state funding, so public schools would increase the tuition on both in state and out of state residents. That sucks and adds to the over all issue of college affordability, but with the increase in enrollment, it seems that this might save the schools. Sucks for undergrads, but I'm not sure we, as grad students, would be affected. 

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I think that the impact will happen next cycle(s). I would not be surprised if universities decreased the umber of admits. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I took for granted that the number of application will rise sharply. 

 

Admits this year, however, are "safe", including internationals (like me). I can't image anyone being reject after being admitted. 

 

The issue that really concern me are:

Short-term:  I really want to go the US asap. Here in my country the situation was precarious before covid and the all indications that the virus will hit us hard. Also, to be honest, I need the stipend and health insurance. I am afraid that they postpone next semester and I have to be more months without any income and afraid of using the public health system.

Long-term: We will enter uncharted waters. We don't know what will be the "normal" after this crisis. We might be the first generation that online teaching will be mainstream. What would be the consequences to the professor labor market? Will that lead to even less TT positions? 

.

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15 minutes ago, raduan said:

I can't image anyone being reject after being admitted.

I agree that people will not be rejected once admitted. But I think there is a real chance that programs will ask students to postpone students' attendance for a semester or year. At least for persons who cannot enter the US. There are many reasons for this, but ultimately it is neither in the student's nor the program's interest to have students spend a year in a program virtually. Everyone is better off simply postponing for a year or semester. If things continue to be bad and extend through the summer, it would honestly surprise me if programs just continued with first year classes online as if nothing had happened. And it will take long before things clear up in the US; even if everything goes smoothly from now on there is literally no chance the US will be back to normal the next couple of months. It could be longer than this, easily. And when things return to normal, then the US will probably still exercise caution and maintain entrance restrictions until it is completely safe in the eyes of the authorities. I think I am optimistic when I say that it could take 3 months from now before all is back to the way it was. That is best-case-scenario and right on the verge of the time where people will be able to get their visas in time.

Again I cannot imagine that anyone will be rejected once admitted, but I can imagine that certain significant adjustments will be made. If I were you, I would inquire my program about this; what is the plan? What will they do if all this extends through the summer? 

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I've been having the same worries lately! I'm 29 so I assume I'm already a few years older than the average incoming PhD student (I have no idea about this one though).

I've only been admitted to my two safeties (provided that I get rejected by programs that have waitlisted me in the coming days). For the one I'm considering attending, the amount of stipend I was offered is already pretty low, and I'm now even more concerned about a potential pay cute in the coming years due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. Another source of concern for me (and probably won't apply to most of you here) is the likelihood that some departments will just call it quits with regards to their PhD programs. Many departments have done this before (among others, Tulane shut down its PhD program after Katrina, only to restart it a few years ago). If it happens (god forbid), it'll undoubtedly hurt the ranking/reputation of the program, and will in turn hurt the students' chances of landing a job after graduating. After all, who'd want to hire someone that graduated from a "failed program"?

May I ask where the OP and @raduan are hailing from? I'm American with sort of an international background. Been living in East Asia for the past 6 years for master's and work. The move back has already been stressing me out sans the virus. And now? I don't even want to think about it...

Also, as some of you have mentioned above, I'm also not looking forward to the idea of starting my PhD studies online... Tough times ahead for everyone, let's all stay healthy and hope everything works out in the end!

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10 hours ago, jonliu said:

I've been having the same worries lately! I'm 29 so I assume I'm already a few years older than the average incoming PhD student (I have no idea about this one though).

I feel you. I'm 31 so close in age and I feel like an old man. I literally had another incoming PhD student who is about a decade younger than me mock me the other day (in an online FB group for my incoming cohort) for being so old and in school. I guess we have to get used to it. I doubt we'll be the oldest in our respective cohorts because I've seen some 40-somethings and even 50-somethings who go back for a PhD as a second career, often sponsored by their employer (often government/military service academies) or for personal enrichment. But we definitely will be among the older students given that the average PhD cohort age seems to be 23-25 years old. 

10 hours ago, jonliu said:

I've only been admitted to my two safeties (provided that I get rejected by programs that have waitlisted me in the coming days). For the one I'm considering attending, the amount of stipend I was offered is already pretty low, and I'm now even more concerned about a potential pay cute in the coming years due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. Another source of concern for me (and probably won't apply to most of you here) is the likelihood that some departments will just call it quits with regards to their PhD programs. Many departments have done this before (among others, Tulane shut down its PhD program after Katrina, only to restart it a few years ago). If it happens (god forbid), it'll undoubtedly hurt the ranking/reputation of the program, and will in turn hurt the students' chances of landing a job after graduating. After all, who'd want to hire someone that graduated from a "failed program"?

I wouldn't worry too much about programs shutting down. I think the current/projected economic turmoil will actually strengthen and bolster many programs. As that Stanford economist's (Prof. Hoxby) research revealed, during the last several recessions, undergrad and graduate education became more attractive to people because they were not forsaking jobs, money or missed opportunities to go back to school. If the same logic is applied to the current events, it's likely that programs across North America and Europe will see a significant uptick/increase in interest and applications. Combined with what will probably be smaller cohort sizes due to less money, I think there will be some painful years of hypercompetitive admissions and funding atmosphere at many (if not all) schools, but I don't see them shutting down with this potential boom time for intellectual renaissance as more and more people want to go back to school. I agree with others on here that cohort sizes will be smaller and there will be less money, but I do not believe programs will shut down to a significant extent.

Professional programs will see huge benefits to this economy; law schools in particular, which do not give out substantial funding and are largely funded through student loans, were booming during the last recession and many shut down between 2012-2019 because the economy was so good that there was not as much interest in going to law school and getting $150k+ in debt. History and economics have shown that when the economy is bad, interest in lucrative professional degrees like law increase exponentially, so I expect some schools/programs will actually benefit from this economic situation. 

10 hours ago, jonliu said:

May I ask where the OP and @raduan are hailing from? I'm American with sort of an international background. Been living in East Asia for the past 6 years for master's and work. The move back has already been stressing me out sans the virus. And now? I don't even want to think about it...

I was born in East Asia and raised in Canada so I have dual citizenship and about half of my family is still in Asia. I'm currently in Southeast Asia working. I went to a Canadian top 3 for undergrad (economics & IR), a US T10 for my master's degree (polisci/data analysis) and will be going to the University of Toronto for my PhD. I've spent most of the last 8ish years working in the US and Canada and only just moved to Asia for a job, right before the pandemic started 😬 I had planned on moving back to Toronto this summer but if my PhD classes are either going to be delayed for a few months or online, I'll probably stay here. 

10 hours ago, jonliu said:

Also, as some of you have mentioned above, I'm also not looking forward to the idea of starting my PhD studies online... Tough times ahead for everyone, let's all stay healthy and hope everything works out in the end!

I know they are doing online classes right now for PhD students at most US and Canadian schools because they had no choice but it's anyone's guess what will happen this fall. Online? Canceled/Delayed for 6-12 months? In person? Who knows. It's a very anxiety-filled time right now for all of us on this forum who are waiting to start a PhD, I think. 

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On 4/5/2020 at 7:15 AM, jonliu said:

May I ask where the OP and @raduan are hailing from? I'm American with sort of an international background. Been living in East Asia for the past 6 years for master's and work. The move back has already been stressing me out sans the virus. And now? I don't even want to think about it...

 

I am Brazilian, born and raised. My biggest fear right now is everything reasonably returning to normal to have classes in the Fall, but am still not allowed to enter the US because, as the curves are shown, we are still in the beginning of the COVID crisis.   

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On 4/4/2020 at 11:05 PM, raduan said:

Admits this year, however, are "safe", including internationals (like me). I can't image anyone being reject after being admitted. 

 

Unfortunately I have to refute what you are saying because a school that offered me a position has just rescinded its offers for all the political science admits. I don't think anything is crystal clear at the moment. Let alone admissions and funding, schools generally avoid giving certain answers to questions regarding next terms.  

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31 minutes ago, Richelieu20 said:

Unfortunately I have to refute what you are saying because a school that offered me a position has just rescinded its offers for all the political science admits. I don't think anything is crystal clear at the moment. Let alone admissions and funding, schools generally avoid giving certain answers to questions regarding next terms.  

Wait really? Was it a postponement or something providing a gap year? Or did they straight up rescind all offers? 

also, would you mind sharing which school and their justification/reasoning they provided? 

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7 minutes ago, Dwar said:

Wait really? Was it a postponement or something providing a gap year? Or did they straight up rescind all offers? 

also, would you mind sharing which school and their justification/reasoning they provided? 

Based on their history it looks to be Loyola in Chicago. 

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1 hour ago, Richelieu20 said:

Unfortunately I have to refute what you are saying because a school that offered me a position has just rescinded its offers for all the political science admits. I don't think anything is crystal clear at the moment. Let alone admissions and funding, schools generally avoid giving certain answers to questions regarding next terms.  

If you turned down other departments for the offer you thought you had, I would email and call them all right IMMEDIATELY. Be honest about what happened and let them know that you wish to attend a real department and not that piece of trash that rescinded their offer to you. I am sure people will understand and do what they can to help you.

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6 hours ago, Richelieu20 said:

Unfortunately I have to refute what you are saying because a school that offered me a position has just rescinded its offers for all the political science admits. I don't think anything is crystal clear at the moment. Let alone admissions and funding, schools generally avoid giving certain answers to questions regarding next terms.  

Wow that is absolutely horrible, and quite worrying too... Do you have other options available? I'm also interested in knowing the reasons they give you for rescinding the offer.

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On 4/6/2020 at 5:09 AM, Paulcg87 said:

I wouldn't worry too much about programs shutting down. I think the current/projected economic turmoil will actually strengthen and bolster many programs.

Well I sure hope that's the case. I'm aware of a couple low-ranked PhD programs shutting down due to budget cuts/shortage of funding, among other reasons. I think one thing to consider is that schools need to pay their PhDs (aka a financial burden, though on the other hand PhD students are a wonderful source of cheap labor) while undergrads pay to attend, so I can see schools increasing their tuition and admitting more undergrads in face of the recession.

On 4/6/2020 at 5:09 AM, Paulcg87 said:

I was born in East Asia and raised in Canada so I have dual citizenship and about half of my family is still in Asia. I'm currently in Southeast Asia working.

I also have an East Asian background. I was born in the US but grew up in Taiwan. Got my bachelor's in poli sci from a top-10 school (referring to the US News global rankings here). Been in China since 2014, got a master's first and have been teaching at a Chinese university since. I thought I have a pretty relevant background especially since I plan on doing research in comparative politics/China, but still got rejected by my top choices. Guess my underwhelming undergrad GPA and mediocre GRE scores didn't help lol

9 hours ago, raduan said:

My biggest fear right now is everything reasonably returning to normal to have classes in the Fall, but am still not allowed to enter the US because, as the curves are shown, we are still in the beginning of the COVID crisis.

@raduan I feel you... As many have mentioned, hopefully things will start to settle in the next couple months. The uncertainty absolutely sucks tho.

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14 hours ago, jonliu said:

I also have an East Asian background. I was born in the US but grew up in Taiwan. Got my bachelor's in poli sci from a top-10 school (referring to the US News global rankings here). Been in China since 2014, got a master's first and have been teaching at a Chinese university since. I thought I have a pretty relevant background especially since I plan on doing research in comparative politics/China, but still got rejected by my top choices. Guess my underwhelming undergrad GPA and mediocre GRE scores didn't help lol

Cool! We are in similar situations. And I know what you mean about the wildly unpredictable and confusing PhD acceptance stats. I saw somewhere that you did get into a few schools so congratulations on that! I'd say at this point we should all feel very lucky that we got in anywhere given that I expect cohort sizes will be smaller, funding will be less, applications will increase and admissions will be even more competitive next year. I expect the next few years are going to be brutal for PhD admissions in the social sciences. 

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