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September 10, 2020: Quarterly Update

It has been a remarkable road over the last four months of contingency planning and preparation as Peabody has addressed how to best serve our students during this ongoing pandemic.  As recently as the end of June, we were planning for a “flexible hybrid” model for the fall semester that would have left most of our classroom activities online while bringing performance-related curriculum back to campus.  Much work was done to plan for this contingency, while simultaneously planning for a fully remote experience that our international students, and some of our domestic students, would require.  By late-July, it had become clear based on the negative trajectory of the virus that a hybrid modality was simply not going to meet the safety criteria established in conjunction with health professionals at JHU.  At the end of July, we “called” the semester, with Homewood following suit one week later.  In the weeks that followed, many other colleges and universities made similar decisions. 

Fall 2020 and Beyond

The work done over these months has further strengthened our capacity for remote instruction.  Over the summer our faculty spent weeks working on remote teaching skill-building, while our technology team worked to bolster our ability to deliver the most robust remote learning experience possible.  In addition, we have adapted certain key degree requirements to both reflect the reality of a different environment – for example the creation of a “capstone” project that goes beyond the traditional recital– and take advantage of the use of technology to in fact expand upon, and not just replace, the usual format. 

Long before the pandemic, through the Breakthrough Curriculum, Peabody has been challenging its students to learn skills of flexibility and adaptability in order to create a mindset that can be responsive to changes in our field that have been happening for decades. This will likely be accelerated by COVID-19 and will most certainly continue to evolve long after this pandemic is a distant memory.  If the last six months have taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected.  So, whether we’re talking about how technology will be used in the future to deliver artistic product, or who the audience will be that will consume that product, we must ensure that our students are trained to be top flight musicians and dancers who have the skills to navigate technology, and more broadly to think creatively about how to adapt their skills to an environment in the future that may look very different from anything we can even imagine today.  This fall we are also supporting the creative expansion of our curriculum with additional opportunities to understand and explore the rapidly changing environment in which we exist, through the Dean’s Symposiums and Lunch & Learns.

Fall Enrollment

One of the major questions hovering over the last several months of planning was the potential impact that the continued pandemic, changes in learning modality, and a deteriorating economic environment might have on enrollment at Peabody.  At this time, I am pleased to report enrollment is stabilized at 690 students, exceeding last year’s enrollment of 674 students and the revised enrollment assumptions for this academic year. 

Peabody has also focused in recent years on increasing student diversity.  This year that progress has continued.  More than 17 percent of students this year identify as underrepresented minorities (defined by JHU as Black or African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders), an increase over last year’s 14 percent, which continues to position Peabody as a national leader in recruiting and building a more diverse student population.     

Financial Outlook

Over the last several years we have worked diligently to adhere to a financial plan that has made important investments in our mission, people, and programs, while ensuring financial sustainability through eliminating long-standing structural deficits.  While this has certainly become ever more challenging in the last six months, we can now report that our final financial results for FY20 include a $2.4M loss on a GAAP basis, as compared with a budgeted $2.1M loss.  In our multi-year financial plan, FY21 was the year that we would reduce the operating deficit to its lowest point, eliminating it in FY22.  We remain committed to staying on track with that plan, which is essential to building our reserves and ensuring the long-term health of the Institute.  To do so under current economic conditions, we have participated in the financial actions taken across the university including wage and hiring freezes, suspension of retirement contributions, and compensation reductions for university leaders and the deans of each division.  And in actions of its own, Peabody eliminated nine staff positions and has held eleven vacant positions open.  It remains our goal to avoid furloughs or additional compensation reductions. 

The other material impact on FY21 is the 10 percent tuition reduction undertaken for fall as a direct and immediate way of offering relief to our students and their families at this difficult time.  With these actions, and as we continue to navigate COVID-19, Peabody is on track with its smallest budgeted loss since our financial plan was put in place.  We are grateful to Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels for making special funding available to partially offset the impact of auxiliary revenue losses in FY20 and tuition reduction in FY21.  Peabody remains focused on fully meeting our educational and artistic mission within the framework of responsible financial stewardship. 

Breakthrough Plan 2024

With the development over the last year of the next phase of our Breakthrough Plan, we remain committed to staying fully on track with the initiatives outlined in the full plan.

The future of our campus is an important asset and component of the plan.  Accordingly, we are now wrapping up a pre-study undertaken with the assistance of the firm of Hord, Coplan, Macht enabling us to proceed to a formal study, which will ultimately result in a complete campus plan for the future that includes both a new vision for students’ residences as well as increased programmatic space for Peabody’s growing initiatives.  

A key aspect of future programmatic growth as identified in our plan is predicated on expanding remote programs, which will benefit from all we have been learning throughout the pandemic.  This initial phase focuses on the Peabody Preparatory as an area with substantive future potential by expanding beyond our longstanding, core programs, to include Peabody Plus – Music and Dance Classes for Adults; Peabody Prescribe – Arts and Wellness; and Peabody Pro – Professional Development for Artists.  Ten courses, ranging from Musical Minds, Brain, and Machines to Hip Hop classes, from PD Strummers – a guitar program for Parkinson’s patients – to Anatomy and Movement for Musicians, look to broaden Peabody’s programs beyond the degree programs found in the Conservatory to include life-long learning, professional development, and arts and health.  Similarly, consistent with our plan, in the coming months Peabody will begin to lay out potential new Conservatory degree programs, also built around remote and hybrid modalities.      

Another critical area for continued development in the Breakthrough Plan 2024 is diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Here we are linking the goals outlined in the plan with an expanded vision for this work to include anti-racism efforts as outlined in my message to the Peabody community last June in the wake of the George Floyd murder and the unrest that followed and continues today.  To advance these initiatives, and to advise on how we can do this important work, we have formed the Anti-Racism & DEI Steering Committee to help oversee these efforts, which include continued focus on diversifying Peabody’s faculty, students, and staff.  We are committed to building on the progress we have seen in recruiting a diverse student cohort as noted earlier, as well as success in attracting underrepresented minority faculty which currently represents 14 percent of the total Conservatory faculty as compared with 6.5 percent three years ago.  Other important initiatives are being developed around creating community conversations on race and diversity; training initiatives for all community members; and a major undertaking in curriculum reform to broaden traditional conservatory training to include a more rich and representative array of creative voices. 

Wrap-Up

As you can see, we may have been challenged by COVID-19, but we have not been slowed by it.  I look forward to keeping you updated on all these initiatives, as well as what the second half of the academic year holds with regards to a return to campus.  For now, I will close with the note that I am incredibly grateful for the remarkable work our faculty and staff continue to do so that Peabody can continue to excel despite, and throughout, these remarkable times.