'No one area is immune': Mohawk expects $50M shortfall and job cuts from COVID-19

Mohawk College has struck a team to look at how to handle a massive $50-million budget shortfall in light of COVID-19, and "no one is immune" from potential job losses.

There will be a fall term, but neither Mohawk nor McMaster are sure what it'll look like

A picture of Mohawk College's Fennell campus.
Mohawk College says the COVID-19 pandemic has basically rendered its planned 2020/21 budget null and void. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Mohawk College has struck a team to look at how to handle a massive $50-million budget shortfall in light of COVID-19, and "no one area is immune" from potential job losses.

That's according to an internal memorandum to staff on Wednesday, which warns that the pandemic has rendered the planned 2020/21 budget irrelevant. Now the college expects dramatically lower domestic and international enrolment this fall, and a nine-member team will suggest cost-cutting measures to the board of governors in June.

"I understand that this is a very difficult situation with a great deal of uncertainty," said Paul Armstrong, chief operating officer, in the memo. "As an organization, we will need to make some tough decisions.  The impacts will be felt through all parts of Mohawk, and no one area is immune or exempt from finding cost reductions required to balance the budget."

Enrolment is down across the board, said college spokesperson Bill Steinberg. Many accepted students are holding off on confirming, concerned about how classes will be offered in September. International students, who come from 90 countries and make up at least a quarter of Mohawk's student population, wonder whether they'll be able to travel to Canada at all.

The college has already laid off or not called back contract employees, Steinberg said. 

"It's all attendance and enrolment," he said. "We anticipate we're going to have an overall reduction in enrolment of 20 per cent."

"There's some ambiguity over how academics are going to be delivered in September, and it seems to have created some uncertainty among potential students."

'There will be a fall term'

As for course delivery, Steinberg said the college is already adapting. Classes for the spring/summer semester are being delivered online.

"I think you'll find that the committee is going to look at a number of different scenarios — everything from delivering academics as we have in the past, to doing a hybrid kind of model that has some delivery online," he said.

McMaster University has similar issues.

"There will be a fall term, though whether it will be online or in-person is not yet clear," spokesperson Wade Hemsworth said in a statement. 

"Our goal at McMaster is to welcome new and returning students back to campus as soon as this can be done safely and in accordance with public health guidance and government protocols."

There have already been job cuts

The university said in an April 2 notice that some continuing and limited-term positions would be impacted by the pandemic. Employees who can work from home are doing so. 

"Where there is a lack of work or funding, supervisors will be reaching out to impacted employees to discuss these changes with them," the notice said.

In a letter Thursday, McMaster president David Farrar said "there are many questions that we cannot yet answer." Faculty and staff should prepare for online or in-person classes, he said.

Steinberg said whatever happens, it'll be focused on the students and their education.

"It would be wonderful if somehow we got through this," he said, "and our campus was active again in September."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca