It’s been nearly two months since the original quarantine orders were promulgated by state authorities, followed by or preceded by a shut down of college and university classes. Everyone, leaped to embrace “distance” learning, probably believing it would be a short, tolerable detour. Then came the return of room and board fees, and all of the sudden, the crisis became a fiscal, as well as an educational reality. The question now is how, and when is the restart, and who decides? It’s not a comfortable place for the academe, whose leaders are used to teaching fact and peer reviewed hypothesis. This is now about real survival in some cases, physical as well as fiscal.
There have been conversations, with the help of a myriad of electronic media, to interest groups, but one thing is clear, there is no certainty on how to proceed, and I believe the hope is someone else will make a decision. Lafayette President Byerly just delivered a Town Hall electronic meeting to alumni, backed up by her cabinet officers…. and the path to opening is still obscure. In yesterday’s meeting, I did note one interesting bit of information, it is clear a decision by Lafayette can not wait until Sept 1st, and the Lafayette president said that some decisions need to be made by June 15, to allow for plans to proceed for the fall.
AD Sherytta Freeman was equally unsure in a recent interview on Go Leopards as she and the other ADs have been waiting for the leadership to give an indication if there will be on campus learning this fall or not. One thing is clear…there will be no sports if there are no face to face classes!!
McKinsey and Company see three scenarios going forward, first, rapid and effective control, where the virus is contained with instruction resuming in the fall. Programs are disrupted through the summer, but the 20-21 school year operates almost normally, with new health controls, but with disruption to International school enrollment.
The second scenario is that there is an effective response, but with regional virus resurgence. Teaching resumes online in the fall, resulting in a major decline in auxiliary revenues, programs with strong brands and online capabilities stand to gain enrollment amid a spike in attrition and switching.
The third scenario is a broad failure of public health intervention and pandemic escalation. Online learning continues, with face to face instruction resuming in 2021. Some programs operate online only for the first full semester, and there will be continued switching of schools and disruption to international student enrollment. In this third scenario, 43 percent of 4 year not for profit colleges will suffer a greater than 20 percent reduction in revenues. Ten percent will have a 5-10% reduction.
Both President Byerly’s comments and in private conversations I have had with both Lafayette officials and others at competing institutions seem to be cognizant of the three scenarios. However, we are in an environment of the survival of the fiscally fit. Lafayette had an endowment before the virus of about 850 million and has moved to strengthen its cash reserves. No college or university can escape the inevitable cost cutting that will need to be done. The declines in endowment values will have a more permanent impact on future years, and philanthropy, in an era of 14-18 pct unemployment, will be adversely effected In addition, the willingness of students and parents to pay high tuition, room and board will constrain future enrollment in an environment already predicted to show declines in college age students entering the market.
What does it mean for sports?? I have been in contact with several coaches and administrators all around the country and they are equally conflicted. Ideas are abundant, ranging from moving seasons to the next semester, to restricting schedules to a more cost effective regional structure.
A large concern will be how many students will want to take a gap semester, not wanting to deal with learning over a computer. Lafayette will take on 715 students in this year’s freshman class after dipping into the wait list and appeals pool already!! The summer melt of freshmen that usually happens every year has not happened yet. One half of the class was early decision, before the Covid Crisis. Capital construction may slow and other expense reductions or revenue enhancements will have to be found. Clearly there is no “silver bullet,” available.
On a more permanent basis, I could see sports like field hockey using their regional strength to schedule in a 350 mile radius and a weakening of ties to larger more national conferences. I can see those larger conferences concentrating on the larger revenue important sports like football and basketball.
I was impressed with President Byerly’s assertion in her town hall, of the importance of co-curricular activities like sports in the residential college setting. For the Patriot League , basically a regional Division one conference, I see it surviving and thriving as they stick to their mission of serving true”student-athletes.”
However, how the larger schools treat their non- revenue sports will have an interesting impact on future schedules, and perhaps to schedules this fall. Could we see in our field hockey schedule , a Rutgers or Princeton, and seeing more of Monmouth, Rider and Columbia??? It is not out of the question.
Who will be the first to jump and commit to a fall season…Maybe we find out more on June 15.!!!