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JCSU enrollment drop forces changes
School lays off 21, 30 positions frozen
 
Published Sunday, November 3, 2013 1:48 am
by Herbert L. White

George Dale’s best friends couldn’t afford to study at Johnson C. Smith University.

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PHOTO/PAUL WILLIAMS III
A year after enrolling a record 1,807 students, Johnson C. Smith University laid off 21 administrators and froze 30 unfilled positions. JCSU President Ronald Carter says the drop in enrollment, due in part to changes in federal guidelines for financial aid, resulted in a $3 million shortfall in the school’s operating budget.

Dale, a sophomore from Henderson, N.C., said classmates have transferred to schools in their native Virginia as economic hardships has cut the school’s enrollment by nearly 500 students since the 2012-13 academic year, sliced its $36 million operating budget by $3 million and forced the layoff of 21 administrators last week. Another 30 open positions have been frozen. The Duke Endowment stepped in last month with a $2.5 million grant to help students offset tuition gaps, but it wasn’t enough to save jobs. 

“We were saying at a (homecoming) pep rally we got awarded all this money, (so) why are we losing people?” Dale asked. “It’s just a question mark there.”

JCSU, like many small private schools, have been buffeted by a combination of recession aftershocks and changes in federal guidelines that tie student loans to payment history. As a result, black students whose families have poor credit history are being excluded for financial aid.

“The impact is on the administration,” JCSU President Ron Carter said. “We did not try to right-size on the backs of let’s say, administrative assistants. It goes throughout the campus in terms of middle managers.”

JCSU enrolled 1,387 students for the fall semester compared to a school-record 1,801 the previous year. Carter said JCSU leaders noticed the possibility of dwindling enrollment several years ago during the Great Recession of 2009. Changes in eligibility for the federal Parent PLUS loan has been especially difficult for historically black colleges to overcome. JCSU, for example, lost 300 students to tuition losses although it filled the gaps for some students with school funds and grants.

“These are students whose parents could not qualify for the Parent PLUS loan, many of them qualified the year before,” Carter said. “We took the decision to use our reserves to keep as many of our students here as we could – that was approximately 150 students. And then with regret, we saw another 150 students leave because they couldn’t close that gap.” 

To boost its financial footing, JCSU is in the midst of a $150 million capital campaign that includes a $10 million endowment for funding tuition gaps. It is also exploring the possibility of outsourcing some services to save money.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned as we look at how we can continue strengthening our financial platform,” Carter said. “We have students who bring financial aid but the gap may be $1,000, the gap may be $900, it may be $300. But for a family that’s struggling, $300 may as well be $3,000, so we want to have resources that help our students close that gap.”

The loss of students – and funds that make their education possible – concerns Dale, who said he didn’t have trouble paying tuition. 

“At the end of the day, I go to a small HBCU, so the money that’s being taken away,” he said. “Even though I haven’t had problems financially because I’ve been blessed, I’ve had friends that have been affected. I see it.”

 

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