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Kelly Evans: This college campus WILL be open in the fall

CNBC's Kelly Evans
CNBC

"We are planning to resume on-campus instruction this Fall Term." 

Those words certainly caught my attention when I was scrolling through my alma mater's email update the other day.  

And today, the President of Washington & Lee University, William Dudley, will join us on the show to explain how and why the college intends to reopen.  

A quick word about W&L: it's a 1,700-student campus situated in a 6,000-person town in the middle of rural western Virginia. This is not a dense urban environment at all. I expect that's partly why the college is able to go ahead with planning for classes on campus this fall, even as the entire California State University system just announced their classes will be "primarily virtual."  

That's not to say it will be without its challenges, though. I'm curious what those classes will look like; fewer students, more spread out? What about the calendar? Fewer breaks to return home? Students encouraged to stay on campus instead of driving to larger nearby cities? What about the dorms? What about sports, and what about the dining hall? 

The other day, Choice Hotels CEO Pat Pacious told us he's already heard from colleges asking about using his hotels for student living, in part because of social distancing, and in part because study abroad programs are likely to see way lesser participation this year, meaning lots more students on campus than usual.  

None of this is ideal, obviously, but the alternative--virtual learning--could severely damage many of the colleges that go that route. The parents and students I know in my town are all saying they'll either defer their admission for a year or switch to a campus that is open. Very few people want to pay a ton of dough or take out huge loans for online learning while sitting at home.  

And that's what President Dudley also referenced in announcing his decision to reopen campus: his commitment to preserve "continuity of employment" for W&L's faculty and staff.  

I'm sure that's a huge relief to Lexington, which, like many towns and cities these days, depends heavily on its colleges for employment and economic growth. In fact, I wrote about this in The Wall Street Journal back in March 2009.  

"Looking for a job? Try a college town," was our lede (that's newspaper-speak for "intro") during that economic crisis. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 recession is different. College towns--even the ones that do reopen--are likely to be among the hardest-hit. 

 See you at 1 p.m... 

Kelly 

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Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans