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Coronavirus highlights flaws in WCC’s alternative revenue plans

A growing list of Michigan colleges and universities are canceling in-person classes in response to coronavirus fears. While some classes can move online easily, occupational and vocational classes usually rely on hands-on and lab instruction. WCC may not be able to transition its classes so easily to online delivery. Classwork aside, organizers are canceling or postponing other significant gatherings indefinitely.

Nationally, organizers have cancelled annual music festivals South by Southwest (SXSW) and Coachella. A number of large Las Vegas attractions are also shutting their doors. Locally, the Michigan Climate Action Network has postponed its planned Climate Action Summit. The Ann Arbor District Library has cancelled all events and programs until further notice. The Ann Arbor Public Schools have temporarily cancelled all after-school activities while they evaluate next steps.

The reality is that coronavirus is here in Michigan, and it’s unlikely to go away soon. The Michigan Department of Health and county health departments are monitoring at least 125 individuals here who have been exposed to or are suspected to have COVID 19.By tomorrow, that number could easily be 250 or 500. Because the virus is so new, health officials do not know what will happen to the number of infections as the weather warms. They do know that the virus is easily transmissible, not easily treated. Avoidance is the best current defense. The CDC has said that it may have as many as eight potential vaccine candidates. Human testing could begin as early as June, but distribution could be a year or more away.

Coronavirus shows that now is not the time to pursue convention revenue

Taken on balance, these factors call into question the wisdom of the WCC administration’s desire to pursue conferences (coupled with hotel operation) as a source of additional revenue. WCC does not yet know whether it will be able to deliver its Spring/Summer classes, much less these side projects.

If preventative approaches do not control infection rates effectively, large annual events like the UA and Ironworkers’ annual instructor training events may get canceled. Rescheduling these events to a later date isn’t possible. WCC has already clipped off its summer calendar to accommodate these events. Running them during the Fall or Winter semesters is out of the question.

The hotel/convention/travel industries will all be hard-hit by the coronavirus. This is not the time to go all-in on conventions and meetings to generate revenue. We do not know how badly this will affect the local economy – which is heavily education-centric. While community colleges often help people overcome recessions, a pandemic could undermine WCC’s ability to do that. It is time for the Board of Trustees to consider whether the College will genuinely suffer without this revenue, or will pursuit of conventions and events become an unnecessary distraction from the mission of the College, which the local taxpayers already fund generously.

Photo Credit: B Rosen , via Flickr