A decision this week by the University of Lethbridge to head into the 2020 Fall Semester with primarily online courses could have a significant impact on the local economy.

Trevor Lewington with Economic Development Lethbridge (EDL) says they’ll be watching this closely, but notes there is no question this will potentially have a major ripple effect here.

He says 71% of the people who attend the U of L come from outside the city.

“So what that means is we could effectively see 6,000 less people coming to town in September,” stresses Lewington. “That’s 6,000 less people buying groceries, going to restaurants. That’s also 6,000 less potential part-time workers to support the workforce for local businesses. So the consequences are significant and something we will definitely have to keep an eye on.”

The university says it made the call now so it can direct efforts and resources toward creating the best student experience possible amid COVID-19.

Lewington says this decision will more than likely have an effect on the short-term rental market in Lethbridge as well, especially for those who depend getting income from students renting apartments and homes during the school year.

The U of L saying this week this decision allows for some in-person experiential learning activities, including select labs, studio sessions, practicum experiences and clinical placements. While the primary mode of all course delivery will be through an online model, the University recognizes some experiential activities cannot be transitioned to an online context.

Lewington hopes Lethbridge can still retain some of those U of L students and attract some of them back to the city for the fall semester. “We will see what the university plans in terms of labs and other opportunities for students to engage on campus.”

The University of Lethbridge has made it clear it will stick with the primarily online model for the entire Fall 2020 Semester.