It could have been predicted in advance that when interviewing a president of a small liberal arts college amid the coronavirus crisis to hear some bad news. COVID-19 has considerably disrupted colleges and universities with many of them facing severe financial consequences or even extinction with their tuition-based business model collapsing since the outbreak took hold in the middle of March.
So it was with some trepidation that the Spy’s John Griep and Dave Wheelan, both graduates of Washington College, began our interview with its president, Kurt Landgraf, yesterday to discuss Maryland’s historic center of higher learning and its future.
Those predictions were premature.
It will be surprising, and quite a relief for many, to hear President Landgraf give a very optimistic overview of Washington College’s plans and long-term viability in the face of a severe economic recession and a dwindling pool of prospective students.
There are several reasons for Landgraf’s confidence. He cites the college’s positive projections for a new freshman class starting in the fall; its high ranking among the 1,000 liberal arts colleges in the country; and its $200 million endowment as reasonable indicators for sustainability in a post-COVID world.
Mr. Landgraf also notes the painful cost-cutting moves his administration has had to make to counter a projected $4-5 million operational deficit. Despite the unprecedented costs related to COVID-19, the school will show a balanced budget by the end of its fiscal year on June 30th.
But, saving the best for last, Landgraf disclosed that the Hodson Trust, a philanthropic foundation that has supported the college for decades, will be providing Washington College with an enormous final donation when, by charter, the Trust goes out of business in the next 12 months.
While the president did not (and can not) disclose its final contribution from Hodson, it has long been rumored that this gift may exceed $50 million based on the Trust’s total assets.
The donation will be part of a final distribution that includes WC and three other Maryland schools (Hood College of Frederick, St. John’s College of Annapolis, and The Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore) to fulfill the wishes of Colonel Clarence Hodson, the benefactor who established the Trust in 1920.
Spy readers will need to rely on reading President Landgraf’s body language for the moment to assess the kind of lifeline the Hodson Trust will provide Washington College.
This video is approximately 19 minutes in length.