Less than two months after CEO Bob Chapek teased its return for the fall semester, Disney has announced that the College Program will return to Walt Disney World, and much sooner than previously anticipated! In this post, we’ll share dates, details, and commentary on why the College Program is coming back so soon.
This news comes on the same day that Walt Disney World released new discounts for Summer & Fall 2021. That may seem totally unrelated, but in our deal analysis, we covered how discounts are weaker than normal because Walt Disney World still hasn’t reopened all of its resorts. At this point, that’s primarily due to difficulties filling the necessary positions. As pointed out there, this trend is hardly unique to Florida or Disney–you’ve probably seen similar stories on your local news about the hospitality industry having a tough time finding workers.
However, it’s pronounced in Orlando since a lot of people are transplants, many of whom might’ve left the region when unemployment skyrocketed last spring and job openings dried up. Moreover, the International and College Programs are still on hiatus, so those sources of “renewable” labor are absent. All of that presents significant issues for Walt Disney World, especially given the sheer volume of employees necessary to scale up operations, and Disney’s slower pace at hiring than local competitors…
Against that real world backdrop comes this announcement from Disney Programs, which just shared the exciting news about the return of the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World Resort in June 2021!
Along with much of the world, we’re encouraged by the progress made possible by rising vaccination rates and recently revised guidance around health and safety measures. And while we’re seeing some additional positive signs, we still have a ways to go to a full recovery. This summer we are opening more Disney hotels, sports and convention groups are returning and we are reintroducing some of our guest-favorite offerings.
As our industry and community continue to bounce back, we have welcomed back thousands of cast members to work and have also restarted our recruitment efforts amid a tight labor market at Walt Disney World. Both of these measures are important indicators toward fully reopening our businesses and getting more people back to work.
Right now, we are also ready to welcome back students and are excited to announce the relaunch of the Disney College Program this June. We are inviting participants whose program ended early or was suspended in 2020 to reapply and join us. Today, May 3, these participants will receive exclusive communication via email about this exciting opportunity.
The Disney College Program has always been a source of optimism and pride for our company with participants who each bring new ideas, talents, and perspectives to the table. While that won’t change, we are evolving our Disney Programs to reflect the new world around us.
Applying to the Disney College Program will be even easier with a simplified application process, a concierge team of recruiters you can engage with on social media, and year-long arrival dates. We have temporarily modified some of our eligibility requirements so that many of you can still apply, even if you’ve already graduated. We’re also developing new ways for participants to shape their future careers, exploring a variety of roles and connecting with Disney professionals as they make magic.
We have also been thinking of other college and university students who may be eagerly awaiting their own Disney experience. Right now, we’re focused on bringing the Disney College Program back to Walt Disney World Resort and will have more to share about Disney International Programs, Disney Culinary Program, and those at Disneyland Resort later. The good news is that there is much to come in the future of the program, and we can’t wait to share more information with you when that time comes. Keep an eye out here on the blog, follow us on social media, or opt-in for email updates to stay in the know.
We want you to know that we’re relaunching the Program in a thoughtful and responsible way, with the safety of our participants and our working cast always at the forefront of our planning, particularly as we consider a new approach to housing at the new, state-of-the-art Flamingo Crossings Village complex. Those who return to a program this summer will be the first participants to call this beautiful new community home.
Similar to what we’ve done to help reduce risk in our theme parks and resorts, we are also putting in place a combination of measures for our participants. Participants will receive pre-arrival communication regarding our enhanced safety measures, including updates that promote physical distancing, required face coverings in all common areas, and a new contactless, curbside move-in experience. Like many colleges and universities, we’re also modifying the occupancy of our units, giving fully vaccinated participants the opportunity to live with other fully vaccinated participants.
We’re looking forward to bringing you even more details in the coming days.
This is unequivocally good news. There’s a labor shortage in Central Florida, and Walt Disney World still has tons of unfilled positions even after recalling all eligible furloughed and laid-off Cast Members, per terms of the prioritization agreements reached with the unions. It’s our understanding that Disney has gone beyond that, offering jobs to many Cast Members ineligible for priority treatment under those agreements, and also attempting to coax recent retirees to return in some circumstances.
Despite all of that, there are countless unfilled positions, some of which present an impediment to further accelerating reopening efforts. Walt Disney World has posted new job listings and begun a hiring marketing campaign. However, all of that can only do so much. Pre-closure, a non-trivial amount of Walt Disney World’s labor force was young people, either participants in the International or College Programs, or “holdovers” who just completed their semesters. When the College Program was temporarily suspended and the parks closed, much of that labor pool simply moved back home. In short, those people are gone–no longer in Central Florida to rehire.
On top of that, burnout has been a serious issue for many recalled Cast Members since the parks reopened. We have heard from numerous friends and acquaintances who have quit their jobs with Walt Disney World. The rationale for most could be succinctly summarized as “I didn’t get into this job to babysit adults or have people yell at me for enforcing rules over which I have no control.”
This is obviously anecdotal, but when you hear the same type of horror story time and time again, it becomes obvious there’s a widespread issue. Many times, this comes from people who we otherwise would’ve considered “Disney Lifers.” As pointed out when Disney relaxed the Cast Member “Look” policy, that was a practical necessity because Walt Disney World is attempting to hire and needs to be competitive in the labor market. Same deal here–it has nothing to do with Disney benevolently wanting to give students an opportunity, and everything to do with lack of alternatives options for staffing up head of the big 50th Anniversary celebration.
Personally, we’re very excited to see the Disney College Program resuming in June 2021. While there are normally a number of valid criticisms about the College Program, literally none of those are currently applicable. Right now, it’ll be a good way to keep things fresh and mitigate burnout, and it should help ease the burden on many frontline Cast Members who have been abused by guests even more than normal over the last 10 months.
The College Program also has been an excellent gateway into the company for those who are passionate about Disney and its founder’s ideals. Many College Program participants go on to become lifelong Walt Disney World Cast Members who are true assets to the parks and resorts. Even those who don’t are often among the most enthusiastic employees at Walt Disney World–those who view it as more than just another job. It’d be nice if this serves as something of a reset for the College Program, stripping it of what makes it controversial and getting the program back to its roots.
Finally, Walt Disney World also benefits here because the new development in the Flamingo Crossings area to the west of Walt Disney World property had an estimate cost of $100 million ($600 million for all phases), and was slated to be used by the College Program beginning last May. That obviously didn’t happen.
While the buildings have been offered for rent to Cast Members since, they’re dramatically under-utilized. The College Program returning should fix that problem for Disney. It’ll also mean participants have significantly nicer accommodations than in the past, especially now that Walt Disney World has retired (and is selling) the Vista Way apartment complex.
All in all, the return of the College Program to Walt Disney World in June 2021 is great news for everyone–current Cast Members, guests, and students wanting to do a semester working at the parks & resorts. It should facilitate the reopening of additional restaurants and resorts, while also bringing some fresh faces to Walt Disney World who are eager and excited to work for the company. Honestly, when the College Program went on hiatus, I thought it returning in 2022 was the absolute best case scenario. Very happy to have been wrong about that!
What do you think of the College Program? Excited that it’s coming back in June 2021? Will you or your college-aged kids be participating in the College Program in the near future? Think it’s appropriate for Walt Disney World to resume the College Program under these circumstances? Any other thoughts on the DCP? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!