Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Back from the Brink

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Back from the Brink

Article excerpt

WILBERFORCE, Ohio -- Central State University (CSU), which only seven months ago faced a very real threat of extinction from Ohio legislators, has emerged from a financial and political crisis and is showing strong signs of renewal.

Although obstacles to CSU's long-term health remain, state higher education officials, students, and university administrators agree that the current trends are reason for optimism. And it also appears that a rebuilding program, spearheaded by Central State's new president, John Garland, is starting to bear fruit.

Located in southwestern Ohio, Central State is just twenty miles east of Dayton. It is across a state highway from, but not directly connected with, the private Wilberforce University.

"We're going in an upward direction," said Tiiara Patton, president of CSU's student government and a student member of CSU's board of trustees. "I think we have an administration that is student-oriented, that makes an extra effort to address our concerns. I am very optimistic.

"I know Central State University will be here a long while -- long enough for my kids to come here," she added.

That wasn't the case in early 1997, when Republican legislators in the Ohio General Assembly considered yanking all state funding from the school, which was in the midst of a financial crisis. By the end of June, the combined efforts of Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, CSU's board of trustees, a group of African American legislators, and an executive management team that ran the university on an interim basis secured CSU's $28 million state funding for the next two years.

However, there were strings attached. CSU was forced to give up its prized football program and turn most financial control over to state officials. Also, it must meet nearly two dozen provisions during the next two years in order to continue to receive state funding. The provisions include: maintaining a balanced budget, reducing student-loan default rates, raising admissions standards for entering freshmen gaining institutional reaccreditation, streamlining academic programs, improving student retention, boosting alumni giving, and rebuilding its endowment fund.

Garland -- a CSU alumnus hired last summer from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he served as associate vice provost -- told state officials on an oversight committee January 15 that Central State is on target with meeting the state's requirements.

The university has already adopted a balanced budget and has met or exceeded expenditure targets. It's paying its bills on time. Full-time faculty has been reduced through attrition and layoffs from 120 in the 1995-96 school year to eighty today. And, it is currently hiring staff to replace state officials who had been overseeing the school's fiscal affairs.

Most important, however, the university's students seem to be responding to the renewal efforts. Student attrition between fall and winter quarters promised to be much less severe than previous years, when it ranged from 17 to 23 percent, according to Tedd Miller, CSU vice president for enrollment management, who was appointed by Garland. The school had registered 1,044 students for winter, down a handful from the fall-quarter head count of 1,052.

However, Miller cautioned that financial-aid problems could force up to seventy students from the rolls, and final winter-quarter enrollment figures would likely drop below the 1,044 level. The level of student support brought smiles to the faces of Central State officials.

Garland called the retention numbers "absolutely outstanding. It's a testament to the work we've been able to do here."

CSU officials are busily trying to come up with strategies to keep the students it has and recruit a robust crop of new students next fall. At a January 17 meeting on campus, CSU trustees:

* Established a $750,000 emergency revolving student-loan fund to allow enrolled students to pay living expenses while federal and state student loans are being processed. …

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