Students alone don't just depend on Duke University; thousands of triangle workers make a living at the area's largest private employer.
"I would think with a university like this we wouldn't go out of business or have a layoff and stuff or anything like that, but anything is possible," Duke employee Mary Jackson said.
According to spokesperson Michael Schoenfeld its endowment, once touted at six billion, is now down by 20 percent. Federal research dollars are limited and private fundraising is slow.
"Duke will be a smaller place, we're obviously are not going to sustain the kind of growth we've had in recent years and we'll probably have to go in reverse for a little bit," Schoenfeld said.
A salary freeze is now in effect to prevent layoffs, at least for now.
Over the next three years, Duke will hold off on major expansion projects.
Students will shell out more for tuition to make up for lost revenue, changing the image of a school known for its deep pockets.
"When you say you're a wealthy institution there's just going to be a re-definition of that," Schoenfeld said. "There are universities that have endowments that are three, four or five times larger than Duke's that are in even more financial straits."
So far Duke is holding its own hoping to avoid another financial hit at the expense of its students and thousands of its employees.
"That's all we can do now is pray, pray that the economy gets better," Jackson said.
The university says some vacant positions will remain unfilled to save money, but that does not include faculty positions.