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As the month of April dawns, the impact of COVID-19 is very evident on the Lycoming College campus. April is normally one of the busiest months of the year, as it is filled with athletic events at the Shangraw Athletic Complex, concerts in Clarke Chapel, and honor society induction ceremonies among many other meaningful moments. Students and faculty would be walking to class (many students in shorts and tee-shirts), and the Fultz Quad would be filled with students grateful to be released from a winter confining them indoors. During this week, we would also be eagerly anticipating Commencement and Honors Convocation.
Reflecting the somber mood of the nation as we face what Dr. Fauci has warned is likely to be the worst week of the pandemic, the classroom buildings, Keiper Recreation Center, Lamade Gymnasium, and Snowden Library are locked and mostly vacant. Fewer than 80 students remain on campus, and only a handful can be seen crossing the Fultz Quad. Following Governor Wolf’s “stay at home” order, the faculty are delivering the final weeks of their courses using remote technologies and associated pedagogies from their homes. Honors Convocation will not take place this month, and the May Commencement ceremony has been postponed to October 4, 2020.
The Warrior spirit and the Lycoming sense of community, however, remain visible and strong. They have been evident in the determined way that the faculty and students have adapted to remote teaching and learning, with remarkable support from Information Technology Services (ITS). They can be seen in the way that staff, especially Safety & Security and the custodians, have cared for the 80 students who remain on campus, either because they cannot be home or it is not safe for them to go home. They are visible in the virtual recruitment materials that were created by the admissions and marketing teams, with participation by faculty and staff athletic coaches, ITS, and many others. They can be seen in the faces and voices of the faculty and staff now interacting through Microsoft Teams — we even held a virtual faculty meeting using Teams!
The College’s financial situation is stable, but there are also serious risks looming.
Despite the economic coma (the term comes from economist Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner) that has been induced in our nation’s economy, deposits from new students are running ahead of the previous two years. While the College’s endowment has experienced losses, it has been contained by our diversified investment strategy. We also have ample cash reserves and a high level of liquidity in our portfolio. Finally, the College will receive some meaningful funding from the $14.25 billion that the CARES Act directed toward higher education.
The temporary closing of business operations across the country and the associated explosion of unemployment do constitute serious risks. We are concerned that current students and their families will need significant amounts of additional financial aid to return in the fall. The increasingly international and national nature of our student body leaves us wondering if parents will be comfortable with their students traveling to campus in late August. We are worried that deposits may dry up if the business shutdown continues into the summer. We consider it likely that deposited students and their families will find financial aid packages suddenly inadequate and appeal for additional funds.
As loyal alumni, you may be in a position to assist the College in responding to these risk factors. I ask for this support with some reluctance because I know that many of you in the Warrior alumni family have likely been deeply impacted by the illness and financial strains caused by this pandemic. At the same time, a crisis like this one is also a moment when those of us who are fortunate are called by a sense of shared humanity to assist those who are suffering from the consequences of the pandemic. We can offer our thoughts and prayers to all in the Warrior family who have been impacted, and we can consider doing more for those who are at risk.
Reflecting upon the strong sense of community within the Lycoming family, we have decided to continue with our Day of Giving. We have reoriented the priorities toward meeting the financial and emotional needs of our current and future students. If you are in a position to support others at this time, I ask that you join me and make a gift on April 22 to either the Student Retention Fund, the Student Lifeline Fund, the Mental Health & Wellness Fund, or the Lycoming Fund.
During the coming weeks, all of you in the Warrior family will be in my thoughts. With your help and drawing upon our Warrior spirit, I am confident that Lycoming College will emerge from this unprecedented time and continue to deliver our noble mission.
Kent C. Trachte, Ph.D., is the 15th president of Lycoming College.