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CV-19 Questions, 2

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 2: Will Williams modify international admissions this week?

EphBlog has been a big fan over international admissions for more than 15 years. We loved it when Maud increased the percentage of internationals to 11% for the class of 2023. But does the existence of a global pandemic change that?

And, with admissions decisions due in a week or two, now is the time to ponder that question. Come September, students from some countries might be prevented from coming to the US. Or, if they do come, they might find it difficult to travel home. Would Williams be doing them any favors by admitting them with so much uncertainty?

Why not just skip a year with regard to international admissions? Just admit US citizens and permanent residents from the regular decision pool? (We would still have a bunch of international students already admitted early.)

Again, this is not what I want! I want Williams to become 25% or more international. But maybe not this year . . .

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4 Comments To "CV-19 Questions, 2"

#1 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On March 18, 2020 @ 9:26 am

Admissions decisions will be released nextTuesday, March 24th. Prospective students will have until June 1 (rather than the usual May 1) to decide whether to accept an offer of admission.

As to your specific question, my instinct would be to not make any changes in the admissions posture regarding international students. The biggest risk, as you noted, is that these students cannot get into the country in the fall. If that happens, the class is (somewhat) smaller, and the College misses out on tuition revenue. I’m not sure how critical it would be from a financial perspective, but I would guess it would painful but not fatal.

#2 Comment By abl On March 18, 2020 @ 11:41 am

If decisions are being released in under a week, it’s really too late to make any sort of large-scale change in decisions (unless Williams wants to materially delay its decisions, which I can’t imagine it does). Far easier — and more sensible for a variety of reasons — would be for Williams to admit who it admits and plan on the possibility of some unique matriculation/retention issues come August. For what it’s worth, Williams is relatively well situated to weather problems of that nature: Williams doesn’t rely on year-to-year tuition for funding to nearly the same extent as most schools do.

On the other hand, this crisis is going to severely stress a LOT of undergrad institutions. Williams has a ton of cushion with its massive endowment but even schools like Middlebury may really hurt if they’re faced with the dual hit of dramatic endowment declines (30%? 40%?) and enrollment decreases. And what do you do if you’re, say, Bennington? With a $40 million endowment, you’re presumably relying on tuition revenues to a great degree. If your enrollment suddenly drops 20% and your endowment is down to $25 million, things presumably start to look pretty grim.

#3 Comment By PTC On March 19, 2020 @ 5:54 am

After what happened with the market crash of 2008 I am surprised to see the lack of focus on the schools financial position- as abl mentions. If Williams is heavily invested in stocks then this has to be crushing.

To abl’s point, this is not just a matter of school endowment. Just as important is the liabilities. The school is heavily involved in not for profit and for profit real estate development/ownership and operates as a business in a way that exposure must be greater than many other colleges. In 08, it was forced to shed properties. How does the position it has measure against liabilities now? Debt? Reliable income v liabilities? What will alumni giving look like with a market correction already at about 40% and still volatile?

The Williams Inn has no guests … the shops it owns on spring street are closed. The market has tanked. All of the new buildings, and there are dozens, are empty. Summer camps? Summer theater? Revenue from tourism. This has to be hammering the colleges balance sheet in a way that involves Is not yet realized. The whole thing is heavily dependent on markets and the migration of people to Williamstown.

What will it do as a college, destination, and landlord if it is stuck with empty properties come July, or even worse, into the next school year?

#4 Comment By Anonymous On March 19, 2020 @ 8:54 am

Also, the issue of marginal product, but perhaps even bigger, the ownership of real property that will soon be abandoned if the quarantine from campus continues.

A lot of the staff has to stay on just to take care of the real property. B&G and Security, for example. Grass still needs to be cut. Buildings still need to be repaired. Then there is the issue of what to do when renters abandon leases/ contractual service agreements.

The Williams Inn, and almost every other business on spring street is service oriented and owned by Williams. Those owners will not be able to cover without patrons.