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May 23, 2022: Quarterly Update

It is hard to believe that we are now at the end of this academic year, one which has been both eventful and most productive. The end of the year offers an appropriate moment to delve into some key metrics tracking our institutional progress, so please bear with me as I take the liberty of sharing some of that information in this letter.

Financial

When Peabody launched its Breakthrough Plan in 2015, and then revitalized it in 2019 as the Breakthrough Plan 2024, we committed ourselves to an ambitious effort to build a 21st century curriculum, launch new degree programs, increase scholarship aid, enhance community engagement, upgrade our overall operations, and tackle the historic diversity, equity and inclusion challenges of our field, and to underpin these efforts with a plan to create a more financially sustainable and healthy model for the future, and in the process eliminate long-standing structural deficits.

Many of these goals have since been realized. While COVID certainly created a myriad of challenges that will have slightly delayed our business plans by moving our “breakeven” year from FY23 to FY24, we nonetheless continue to make substantive, material financial progress. For the prior three years, FY19 through FY21, Peabody’s planned deficits or “negative margins” (the gap between revenue and expenses) hovered between 6 and 8 percent. Those negative margins for this current fiscal year (which will end on June 30th) are currently projected to be 1.5 percent, a dramatic reduction. And while we expect some spike in that deficit in FY23 from residual COVID impact and larger than expected university-wide expense allocations, we do expect to begin to generate surpluses in FY24. At the same time, we remain focused on eliminating that remaining deficit.

Fundraising

A key part of Peabody’s strategy is to increase fundraising capacity to both support new initiatives and enhance financial sustainability. For the current fiscal year, Peabody has raised $9.87 million on a goal of $6.95 million, or 142 percent of goal, exceeding last year’s total of $9.74 million raised, in part due to some unexpected, unrestricted bequests. By way of comparison, in FY18-FY20 annual fundraising ranged between $4.6 million and $7.2 million. We have made significant inroads, and are working to ensure we can sustain the kind of annual effort we have seen over these two years, even as we layer in plans for capital fundraising needs in the coming years. Our excellent and dedicated external relations team is working hard to both complete this year, especially to bring in current use funds, and lay the groundwork for next.

Fall 2022 Admissions

While overall applications for next fall exceeded 2,000 in number, they were down modestly – by 3 percent – a trend mirrored across peers due largely to COVID and the challenges of performance faculty meeting potential students during the pandemic. Happily, actual admissions for the fall have resulted in a larger than projected class, and one that is of the highest quality based on metrics used each year. The total student cohort for the 2022-23 academic year is projected to exceed 750, our largest to date. The entering class of 325 students (two-thirds graduate and one-third undergraduates), is 6 percent higher than planned. Undergraduate yield increased 5 percent for the year while graduate yield increased 6 percent. Of particular note is that the proportion of the undergraduate class in the highest echelon of audition scores increased by 14 percent since 2020 while that same metric increased 6 percent for entering graduate students. In addition, our BIPOC student cohort at Peabody next year is projected to be 135 students, up from 127 this year, holding steady at 17-18 percent of the total student population. This progress continues thanks to the Bloomberg financial aid funds and to our Blue Ribbon Scholarship partners, which now totals more than 40 schools and organizations around the country that are fostering and supporting promising young BIPOC artists. All these results are a testament to the appeal of our outstanding faculty, and the work of an equally outstanding admissions and financial aid team.

Graduation

Graduation, always a joyful event, is especially meaningful this year as this is our first in-person ceremony since May 2019. That in and of itself would be cause for celebration. In addition, this year marks the graduation of our first cohort of Dance BFA students, as well as the first graduates of our Music for New Media program. The accomplishments of this first cohort from these programs are amazing on their own merit, made even more so given all that they had to navigate in the last few years after having come to these programs as “pioneers” of sorts. They have persevered magnificently, as is the case with all our graduates.

This year we graduate a total of 214 students in the class of 2022. To add to the festivities, we will not only be celebrating our students, but also recognizing and honoring one of the great voices in American music, jazz icon Herbie Hancock. When the name Herbie Hancock is mentioned, we’re not just talking about one of the great jazz musicians and pianists, but an educator and artist whose work has spanned multiple mediums as a boundary-breaking artist in the world of jazz, funk and R&B, who has collaborated with some of the most notable artists of the last 50 years including Oscar Peterson, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, and many others. Recognized as a Kennedy Center honoree, Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University, winner of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, Herbie Hancock is a humanitarian and artist of unique profile, and we’re honored to be presenting him with the Peabody Institute’s highest honor, the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America.

Next Normal

One of the most important things a major educational institution can do is to be a convener of conversations, of ideas, a forum for imagining and grappling with the future. For me, this is why Peabody’s hosting of the Next Normal series, which began in reaction to and as an outgrowth of the COVID pandemic – but indeed transcends the issues raised through COVID – has been important. This series has now engaged more than 1,600 participants to date in exploration of the long-term challenges facing the performing arts industry – and the potential for a better path forward.

This effort continued most recently in April with The Next Normal: IDEAs for the Future, a symposium that examined racial equity and inclusion in the performing arts. The day brought together a wonderfully diverse array of individual artists and administrators as presenters and panelists along with 300 participants from across the performing arts world for a deep and also practical conversation, as well as uplifting examples of important work happening today. Peabody is truly focused on anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion across areas of recruiting, community culture and curriculum, and we are pleased to be able to extend that work beyond the boundaries of the Peabody campus to convene industry-wide conversations about these important issues.

Shout Outs

The Johns Hopkins Catalyst Awards are among the most prestigious and competitive for faculty who demonstrate exceptional early-career work. I am proud to say that a number of Peabody faculty have received these awards since their inception five years ago. I am equally delighted to celebrate two additional faculty joining that distinguished cohort this year, Joel Puckett and Ah Young Hong, who competed among and were chosen from 123 submissions. Bravos go to both Joel and Ah!

Thanks to the efforts of Joe Montcalmo and members of our management team, at the May Staff Town Hall we instituted a new tradition of “High Note” awards for outstanding efforts by Peabody staff. Our inaugural awardees included Natalie Colony, Lauren Crewell, Anna Harris, Valerie Hartman, Kenrick Hayward, Sojourner McClure, and Victoria Ritter. Congratulations to all, team!

Summing up

At the beginning of this academic year, we were still largely emerging from COVID, and were not entirely sure of what the year would bring. Happily, it has felt remarkably normal, especially the spring semester, and as you can see, it has been exceptionally productive and positive. Even as we wind down this year and get ready for the next, and as we delve deeper into major initiatives such as our campus capital planning project and other new programs this summer and fall, I am so grateful to our remarkable faculty and staff whose own commitment is driven by a desire to serve our students, making it possible for them to thrive at Peabody, and to do the great work that is happening here, today and every day. My continued gratitude to you all.