The COVID-19 crisis brought unprecedented challenges and uncertainty to our nation, the world, and to Lafayette. As the weight of the pandemic caused disruptions, created economic hardship, and threatened public health, Lafayette alumni, faculty, staff, and students demonstrated flexibility and creativity. The College was able to pivot quickly to remote instruction last spring. Select student and alumni events also transitioned to virtual opportunities for the remainder of the spring semester. The adaptation may not have been perfect, but the Lafayette community was committed to helping each other and their communities during a critical time.

We have a lot of work to do together as a community. There’s no question that this is going to be a heavy lift for all of us. Staff are already working hard at reconfiguring their work in ways that will be necessary to undertake remote education for this period of time. Faculty have been working tirelessly and creatively at reconfiguring their classes.

~President Alison Byerly during her March 19 video message to the campus community about the transition to remote learning 

Ensuring Robust Virtual Learning:

Faculty reflections on remote learning:

“I think they saw the humanity in me as their instructor rather than just a talking head. I tried to keep them attached to the community to continue the feeling that we had through the first half of the semester.”

David Sunderlin, associate professor of geology

“Not only were the students enthusiastically reporting on biodiversity in the vicinity of their homes, but they also had such diverse experiences to report because they are from all over the place. Reading students’ posts became the highlight of my week.”

Megan Rothenberger, associate professor of biology

“We finished our final class and played our ‘concert’ via Zoom. It was a meaningful performance for the students, and I am tremendously proud of all of them.”

Jennifer Kelly, associate professor of music and director of art

Faculty continue to think hard about learning outcomes and how they can best achieve the same experiences for students virtually as in the classroom. In preparation for the fall semester, the following initiatives took place:

  • Workshops were held for faculty focused on new technology for remote instruction, including workshops offered through the Center for the Integration of Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship (CITLS), and the College writing program.
  • Investments were made to technology infrastructure.
  • Faculty were provided access to office space, including a limited number of classrooms so they can access resources for teaching.

Connecting Virtually

More than 30 alumni events took place between May and July with over 2,000 registrants. With distance no longer a barrier, many alumni participated in events virtually that they would have never been able to experience in person. Some of the many positive comments received from alumni include:

“I think virtual events are a great way to expand our horizons beyond our sheltering at home status.”

“I felt that the topic was relevant and provided value. I’m very interested in learning and connecting with other Lafayette grads and sharing their industry expertise. This is a unique venue to connect alumni.”

“I live in Virginia and these virtual events give me a chance to stay connected to Lafayette. Please continue them.”

For those interested in viewing a previous ConnectED session, you can watch them here.

Alumni Come Through in the Clutch 

Lafayette’s community of alumni, parents, and friends are important and represent the true power of collective giving. This past year has been challenging, but our community stepped up and supported Lafayette and its students when it was most needed.

From 3/12/20 thru 6/30/20 the following gifts were realized when the College needed it most:

  • Unrestricted Annual Fund support = $1,709,403 (44% of total giving during FY2019-20)
  • Total Annual Fund support = $3,202,529 (42% of total giving)
  • Overall giving to all programs = $7,941,650 (25% of total giving)
  • Marquis Society donors = 617 (29% of total donors)
  • Alumni donors = 1,475 (21% of total donors)
  • Student Support Emergency Fund = $90,951 raised
  • Bequest confirmations = $2,952,161

Total unrestricted Annual Fund giving for fiscal year 2020 far exceeded the goal. This is critical for the College because many Lafayette families’ financial futures have become uncertain due to the pandemic. Unrestricted giving fills the gap experienced by students and the College.  It allows Lafayette to meet the urgent demands on current resources including technology support for remote teaching and learning, financial aid, internship stipends, and more.

This past fiscal year was like no other, and it is clear that the Lafayette community comes together in times of need to support each other. We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy.

~Jim Fisher ’77, P’07, ’10, ’11 Chair, Marquis Society

A Balanced Approach

While the College’s financial health is strong, that strength does not insulate it from the effects of COVID-19. It does, however, give the College a foundation upon which to make adjustments that will allow it to continue delivering its distinctive educational in the immediate future and for the long term.

The College is engaged in extensive scenario planning to assess a variety of risks going forward. Mitigation plans feature both cost containment and reduction strategies. The Colleges’ decisions are guided by three priorities: sustaining the excellent liberal arts and engineering education for which Lafayette is highly regarded; supporting the faculty and staff who are integral to delivering that education to our students; and preserving the flexibility necessary to adjust to a rapidly changing environment. The College’s long-term financial health can be preserved by adhering to these priorities.

The College developed a “Financial Action Plan” in response to COVID-19. The plan is a work in process and continues to be updated.  Three time-horizons comprise the plan enabling the College to focus on three dimensions: (1) current (fiscal 2020); (2) near-term (fiscal 2021); and (3) long-term.

Developing the 2021 budget was challenged by unprecedented uncertainty. On July 22, the College announced that all instruction would be remote for the fall semester. The College rescinded its announced rate increases; rates will remain the same as last year. The College instituted a 10% reduction in tuition for those studying remotely from home. A revised projection reflects revenue shortfalls; the Financial Action Plan calls for a waterfall in expenditure reductions to mitigate revenue losses including reductions in compensation, discretionary spending, capital projects, among other actions.

Longer-range planning reflects actions that will require a greater runway for implementation. While COVID-19 created an immediate challenge to balancing the budget and significant ambiguity and uncertainty in preparing a future year budget, the pandemic provides opportunity. The College will start reassessing its longer-term financial strategies this fall, which will involve much discussion with the Board of Trustees, faculty, and stakeholders.

Attracting and Retaining Great Students 

The College is drawing upon virtual tours, customized outreach, and an expanded virtual presence to connect with prospective students and assure them of the value of a Lafayette education. This strategy yielded a class of 700 students when campus visits were prohibited.

Lafayette was in a strong position at the start of the spring semester. In May, enrollment exceeded 2,700, which is the highest the College has ever been. When Lafayette made the decision to transition to virtual in mid-July, there was an 8% decline in enrollment due to students wishing to defer or take a leave of absence, but this decline was far better than expected. Today, the student body consists of just under 2,500 students. For each class, the College retained:

  • 90% of first year students
  • 93% sophomores
  • 96% juniors and seniors

Maintaining a Competitive Edge

Two centers at Lafayette offered programming this summer that provided a much needed competitive edge for students and equipped them with marketable skills and career readiness: the Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Gateway Career Center.

The Summer 2020 Data Analytics Bootcamp offered from June through August in conjunction with the Dyer Center and the Gateway Career Center was a virtual program that came together quickly at the conclusion of the spring semester to fill the gap that students were facing as a result of cancelled internships due to the pandemic.

“In March, as things were starting to shut down, it wasn’t hard to see the negative implications for students as we knew internship cancellations were going to be next,” explains Yusuf Dahl, Bradbury Dyer, III ’64 Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “A major driver behind the Data Analytics Bootcamp was offering skill sets to students to help them be more marketable and competitive in the job market, while filling the lost opportunities caused by COVID-19.”

In addition, a series of micro internships offered paid remote work experiences in a partnership with Parker Dewey. “The way the mechanics of this partnership work is that the employer provides the project work,” explains Mike Summers, assistant vice president of Gateway Career Center. “Parker Dewey makes sure that it meets all of the minimum criteria for it being a viable project that will be paid. Applicants are screened and chosen depending on how many are needed for that project. Once the project is completed to client satisfaction, Parker Dewey pays the student. These are Fortune 100 companies, nonprofits, or startups. We are hopeful the broad scope will appeal to the wide-ranging interests of our students.”

Climbing the Hill 

Like all areas at the College, Lafayette Athletics has not been discouraged by COVID-19. Instead, Athletics is utilizing this time to come back stronger than ever by focusing on recruiting, planning, and professional development for coaches and staff. In addition, student-athletes are laser focused on maintaining their athletic readiness while simultaneously committing to their studies.

During 2019-20, the second year of Creating a Championship Culture – the Athletics strategic plan, Athletics celebrated many achievements. Lafayette improved six places in the Patriot League Presidents Cup standings. In the fall, football finished League play in second place while field hockey and men’s soccer each participated in their respective championship games. The 2019 Fall was the best fall sports season on College Hill in more than 25 years! Winter sports continued the progress with women’s basketball posting its most conference wins since the 1991-92 season and men’s basketball posting 19 wins.

In addition, the football season yielded the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year while women’s soccer (Offensive Player of the Year) and field hockey (Defensive and Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year) added to the individual highlights. On the academic front, Athletics joined Chi Alpha Sigma, the National Collegiate Athlete Honor Society, and strengthened its partnership with Gateway Career Center to maximize

professional development opportunities for student-athletes. A total of 443 Lafayette student-athletes were named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll – a recognition of student-athletes across the League with GPAs of 3.0 or higher. In addition, Lafayette ranked seventh in the country in terms of graduation success rates* at 98%. Fifteen teams out of 23 earned perfect scores; football was first in the Patriot League at 97%.

*NCAA Graduation Success Rate Report

Sustaining Continued Partnerships 

Marquis society turns 50Today, our story continues through the strategic direction of the College—Affordability and Distinction through Growth. It also continues as a story of hope. We entered 2020, a year like no other, as a strong institution because benefactors of the past believed in the mission of Lafayette, contributing to its strength so we could weather difficult times like these. As a result, we will emerge stronger than ever. Through serving as responsible stewards of College resources and making fiscally-responsible decisions in the present, we are ensuring that Lafayette’s future will be even stronger than its past.

We invite you to shape our story by supporting Lafayette as we forge a path forward to meet the needs of today’s students. When you support Lafayette, your impact will reach far beyond our campus. Through investments in financial aid, academics, athletics, and more we will shape the next chapter in Lafayette’s history.