College

Mayor sees 'cataclysmic trouble' if Cornell and Ithaca College do not reopen campuses this fall

Key Points
  • The mayor of Ithaca, New York, told CNBC that the city's economy faces dire consequences if local colleges do not hold in-person classes this fall due to the coronavirus. 
  • "If the students don't come back in the fall, we're in real cataclysmic trouble," Svante Myrick said on "Squawk on the Street." 
  • Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, which announced Monday it plans to begin in-person classes Oct. 5.
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Ithaca, New York, Mayor Svante Myrick on phased reopening

The mayor of Ithaca, New York, told CNBC on Monday that the city's economy faces dire consequences if local colleges do not hold in-person classes this autumn due to the coronavirus.

"If the students don't come back in the fall, we're in real cataclysmic trouble," Svante Myrick said on "Squawk on the Street." 

Ithaca is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. Cornell, an Ivy League institution, has more than 20,000 students while Ithaca College has about 6,700

Myrick's comments came as Ithaca College announced Monday that it plans to hold in-person instruction this fall, with the autumn semester now slated to begin Oct. 5 — more than a month later than originally scheduled. 

Colleges and universities across the U.S. are planning for how, or whether, they can safely welcome students back to campus in the fall. The decision has implications for students and staff, as well as for the financial outlook for schools. 

But as Myrick's comments illustrate, the cities and communities in which schools are located also are impacted by decisions on reopening campuses. College students play a vital role in the economy of Ithaca, a city of about 30,000 residents, Myrick said. 

"It's not just pizza shops and it's not just bars. It's not just restaurants. It's barbershops. It's nail salons. It's accountants. It's law firms," he said. "The ripple effects of all of our students staying home and not coming back to campus, would be crippling." 

Ithaca, like many municipalities across the U.S., is facing a budget shortfall due to a decline in tax revenue brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Myrick said the city is now looking at a deficit of around $15 million, which he said is the worst in its history. 

"Honestly, that budget deficit assumes that the students are coming back in the fall," said Myrick, a Democrat who was began his first term as mayor in 2012. He was elected to city council at age 20, while he was a student at Cornell, and graduated from the university in 2009.

Tompkins County, in which Ithaca is located, has 141 confirmed cases of Covid-19, according to the New York State Department of Health. New York overall has 351,371 cases as of Monday afternoon, the most of any state in the U.S. 

Myrick said praised the manner in which Ithaca residents and the county responded to the Covid-19 outbreak. But he said the city's economic future is linked to what happens elsewhere in the world, even as Ithaca's region of the state, the Southern Tier, begins its phased reopening of businesses. 

"We cannot actually get back to where we were ... unless the rest of the nation and, frankly, the rest of the world gets the virus under control, because a big part of our strength is our interconnectedness," Myrick said. "If we're not sure that our students can come back to the United States or if parents in California will feel comfortable sending their kids to Cornell in the fall, then our economy won't get back to where it was." 

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Washington and Lee University president on the college plan's to reopen