The city of Florence stands unassumingly in September 2019, before the pandemic began. Beth Laux, executive director of International Programs, said while the suspension disappointed staff, the team in Florence is ready to welcome students back. Photo courtesy of International Programs
Low enrollment hindered the quality of student’s experience abroad, leading the IP office to suspend the Florence study abroad program for the fall semester. In a June 22 email to Florence participants, Beth Laux — executive director of International Programs — announced the suspension to Florence participants.
“Ultimately, suspending the program and giving the students the opportunity to plan for an experience here in Malibu; it was the right thing to do,” Laux said.
With a typical program enrollment of 50 students living in the Florence Villa, the large residential community plays a significant part in the Florence IP experience, Laux said, allowing students to create long-lasting friendships and grow alongside their peers.
“When we realized we wouldn’t really be able to provide that to students due to the low enrollment, we worked with our team in Florence and with the University leadership to assess the situation and determine what we felt we could provide in terms of a high-quality experience for students,” Laux said.
The suspension was very disappointing as the Florence staff has been preparing for students to arrive, Elizabeth Whatley, Florence director, wrote in an email to the Graphic.
“Our full staff started working full time to be ready for the fall semester,” wrote Whatley. “We have decided not to suspend any of the works that we started because we need all these works to be completed for the arrival of our students this spring.”
At the time of the announcement, Laux said, there were program participants who had not completed the steps necessary for recommitment, making the total number of people who would have gone to Florence unknown. Even if the steps were completed, however, Laux said there were still not enough students to inspire confidence from the IP office.
Sophomore Sydney Jirsa, who planned to attend Florence for fall 2021, wrote in an email to the Graphic she found out about the Florence suspension while discussing her excitement about the trip with a friend over FaceTime.
“I was still planning to attend, as the news was showing immense progress taking place in Italy,” Jirsa wrote. “Unfortunately, many students had dropped out since the information sessions primarily discussed the worst possible outcomes.”
International Programs required fall and academic-year Florence participants to dual enroll for the fall, Laux said, meaning students are enrolled in Malibu classes. Dual enrollment for the fall addressed student stress, Laux said, because IP recognized the uncertainty of study abroad for the fall.
Florence fall semester participants can enroll in one of the remaining fall programs, Laux said. Heidelberg, London and Washington, D.C., have limited space for fall-only participants.
“We recognize that students have already applied to the program,” Laux said. “Rather than repeating that, we’re creating pathways to make that reapplication process a little bit easier for them, if that’s what they choose to do.”
Jirsa wrote she is applying to the London fall 2021 program, and while she is thankful for the option and the help of the IP office, she wrote she is also keeping hope to a minimum.
“If the London program falls through, will I have an opportunity to be enrolled in Malibu courses and housing?” Jirsa wrote. “The information session ensured us that the program had no minimum enrollment, yet they canceled it due to minimal enrollment.”
Pepperdine, Jirsa wrote, should focus on helping students with housing and course selection and work on providing clear and organized communication.
For students choosing to stay in Malibu, the IP office is helping them collaborate with OneStop and major advisers and connecting students with Housing and Residence Life, so students can begin finalizing living arrangements for the fall.
IP is optimistic for a spring semester in Florence, Laux said.
“Our Florence team is ready now for students to come back,” Laux said. “They’re excited, our director Elizabeth Whatley and her team have been working for months trying to prepare for students, and they’re so excited to have them back.”
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