It is almost impossible to believe that we have reached the end of another academic year at Peabody, about to graduate our 139th Conservatory class, even as we prepare to welcome a new class of outstanding students in the fall. Congratulations to all our graduates.
The last 18 months have been remarkable in many ways. Remarkable for the circumstances that we have collectively had to navigate – truly uncharted territory for how we would conduct our program. And also remarkable for the normalcy that we have been able to manifest in continuing all our programs, supporting and engaging all of our students virtually, graduating an outstanding class, and continuing to do what we do, all the while learning new skills, new uses of technology, and new pathways for performance.
The only reason this was possible is the determination, creativity and spirit of our students, faculty and staff. It is due to the efforts of our entire community that our mission has continued unabated and relatively seamlessly.
It is in that context that I write with a quarterly update of important aspects of life at Peabody.
Peabody has been on a trajectory to build its financial sustainability in a multi-year plan developed to support first the Breakthrough Plan, and now Breakthrough Plan 2024. That has included making important investments in new programs and faculty, expanded scholarship support, new curriculum, and more. Underpinning this effort has also been the goal to reduce and eliminate structural deficits. That work continues but in a year that we anticipated challenging financial impacts due to COVID, we have been able to weather the challenges and project results that will be about half the budgeted deficit for FY21, the year concluding on June 30. I temper that result with a reminder that this means we still have a deficit. At the same time, as we look forward in our multi-year financial plan, we anticipate being close to a balanced budget with the smallest structural gap in many years in FY22, and expect to fully turn the corner to balanced budgets beginning in FY23.
Our improved outlook for the current fiscal year is due to a successful year in enrollment, whereby our full-time enrollment for the current academic year at 690 students was very much on par with our pre-pandemic plan. In addition, as I write, fundraising for the current fiscal year has reached $8.9 million, nearly 114% of our $7.83 million goal, surpassing last year’s fundraising total of $6.08 million. While we still have significant dollars to raise in current use operating funds for this year, we are on track to come close to that goal. This is all due to the outstanding work of our External Relations team, volunteers, and of course, our generous donors.
We recently completed the process for admission of the 2021-22 entering class to Peabody, having gone into it cognizant of the fact that this year in many ways might present greater recruiting challenges. With faculty unable to travel and recruit, prospective students unable to visit Peabody’s campus, and the ability for students to take more auditions because of being able to do so virtually, we were prepared for a heightened level of competition to recruit the optimal class.
I am pleased to report that we have in fact recruited an outstanding class of nearly 250 students, which combined with the returning cohort projects Peabody’s matriculation for the coming academic year at just over 750 students, a record number of students for the Conservatory. With 16% of the incoming class identified as minority students – on par with last year – we continue to build on the work we have been doing to build a truly diverse community. Next year also will include our first class of graduating seniors in the Music for New Media and BFA Dance programs launched three years ago. My congratulations to our Admissions and Financial Aid teams and our faculty colleagues who worked tirelessly in collaboration to assemble the incoming class.
Since establishing the Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee now nearly a year ago, we have been building on our commitment to diversity as one of the five pillars in Peabody’s strategic objectives and core tenet of the Institute. Over the course of this past year, Peabody has hosted numerous community conversations, town halls, and invited guest presenters that have touched on many aspects of the work that we are doing in this critical area. In collaboration with the University’s chief diversity officer, we have also executed a survey to better understand how members of our community may experience bias. We expect this to provide valuable data to shape our continuing work. In addition, a report by the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Task Force was recently completed, and will provide important direction to expand the diversity of views and creative voices beyond those traditionally represented in conservatory curriculums. This is all to say that there is significant, intentional work going on at Peabody around ADEI in all aspects of our community. We also recognize that we are still early in this journey, and remain fully committed to the long road required to create true equity in our world. I remain especially grateful to members of the Steering Committee for their ongoing work, to Student Affairs for implementing important programming this year surrounding these issues, and to all members of our community participating in these activities. The work goes on.
In the time since launching the Post-COVID Think Tank at Peabody early in the fall, we have convened four meetings with a goal of presenting several key areas for further development as an outgrowth of what we have learned during the pandemic, and most important, in response to how our field may be shaped or changed in both the short and long term as a result of COVID. The group has had a series of robust discussions resulting in a consensus to further explore and more deeply develop ideas across four specific areas with a wider group of participants. The first of these areas is technology and the role that technology is playing and will play in the performing arts, as well as what role Peabody might play as a technology hub to innovate and advance its use in our field. A second area of focus is in American music and the role that this could take on at Peabody especially given the confluence of Peabody’s strong compositional curriculum, the growing importance of new media, the blossoming program in Jazz especially in the context of Baltimore history, and now dance as an additional discipline with unique American characteristics. The third area includes continuing to build on the importance of community engagement both for Peabody institutionally, and as part and parcel of the educational experience for young artists. Finally, a fourth area includes discussions about how our ensembles programs may better evolve to continue to both provide important core traditional experiences like orchestra, while also recognizing that the opportunities for ensemble work in the music world will become increasingly fragmented, varied, and diversified, and that Peabody should lead in ensuring that the ensemble training experience is both rooted in strong traditions and reflective of that future.
As you are aware, and as this newsletter reflects, Peabody over the last five-plus years has focused on diversification and expansion of our academic program in a way that is both rooted in the past and innovative in its view of the future; building our organizational strength and personnel; improving accessibility for students; and diversifying our community as a leading example for our field. As this work continues, we must turn our attention now to a part of Peabody that is both a wonderful asset and a challenge – our campus.
We love the history that we feel when we walk through the halls of Peabody, and the tradition that it represents. At the same time, we know that there is a widening gap between the trajectory of Peabody’s programmatic, academic and artistic growth, and what our campus can support. For that reason, as part of the Breakthrough Plan 2024, Peabody – with the assistance of an outside architectural consulting firm and in collaboration with the facilities team at the University – undertook a preliminary study to assess a wide range of options that Peabody could consider in developing a long-term campus vision and masterplan. This work is focused on student life, including the residential experience and dining, as well as the growing needs driven by new and expanding programs.
The next phase of this work will build on the preliminary study in preparation for undertaking a formal feasibility study over the next 6 to 12 months that will further focus and hone Peabody’s plans in this critical area. As we work with the university leadership, our faculty and staff, advisory board and others, there is a growing awareness about both the need for, and transformational nature of, such a project. I look forward to engaging with all members of our community as we pursue this work.
As you can see, it has been a very busy year. I think we can also say with clarity that as we emerge from COVID, thankfully, the pandemic has not slowed Peabody or altered our plans moving forward. It has taught us new things for sure, and no doubt also reminded us of the joy of things that we often take for granted.
As is always the case at the end of the academic year, and is even more so as we emerge from this pandemic, we are at both an end and a beginning, and I look forward to all that lies ahead.