Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Chugging toward Recovery

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Chugging toward Recovery

Article excerpt

CSX Transportation is helping Edward Waters College get on track to a brighter future

Washington -- Erecting fancy booths at college recruitment fairs is a common and effective way for schools to boost their visibility among prospective applicants. Promotional brochures sent to SAT and ACT test takers are another tool typically used.

But who has ever heard of a school packing itself onto a train to deliver snippets of college life to students across the country?

Edward Waters College chugged ahead earlier this month with "Success Express" -- part of its latest pitch to enroll 2,000 students by the turn of the century. The train displays interactive exhibits introducing students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors to Edward Waters College and life in Jacksonville, Fla., where the small, private school is located.

The unique marketing and recruitment technique originated from discussions held between Jimmy Jenkins, president of Edward Waters, and A. R. "Pete" Carpenter, chief executive of CSX Transportation Inc. The Fortune 500 company generated more than $10.6 billion in operating revenue last year.

"CSX Transportation is a rail company, amongst other things, and so we came across the idea that we could perhaps use the train to also deliver our message," Jenkins said. "Out of it, the Success Express evolved."

Jenkins describes CSX's charitable donation as "a leap of faith," and part of a larger rebuttal to skeptics who are waiting to see if the college -- which was at one point in accreditation trouble -- will crumble or bounce back on its feet.

The "Success Express" campaign drew the attention and backing of national education leaders, many of whom were impressed by the innovative idea.

"If that train travels up the east coast, there's no telling how many students will end up going there," said Henry Ponder, president and chief executive of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

The CSX ten-car, mobile college train did not make a showing at Washington D.C.'s Union Station because of an accidental derailment in Georgia. The conductor of that train was killed, but all others aboard were unharmed and were flown to Washington for the festivities. The train was repaired in time to arrive at Baltimore's Camden Yards on schedule.

Edward Waters officials estimate that a total of nearly 4,000 attended the creative recruitment events. Four-year scholarships were giveaway in both locations and the train is scheduled to stop in eight additional cities in coming months.

"Because of the amount of money invested in this particular campaign, we wanted to get as much bang for the buck as we could," Jenkins said.

Aside from the train, CSX Transportation -- the largest railroad company in the eastern United States -- put an additional $100,000 into the venture to cover promotional expenses and scholarships. CSX is a

"CSX's commitment is two-fold: We want to assist this historic Jacksonville college and its students, and we want to demonstrate our commitment to education by providing a special train that we believe will carry hope and opportunity to minority young people," said Carpenter, whose company has a history of supporting education.

Jenkins said that the college is hoping to gain fifty to seventy-five students from the tour's first two stops.

"We know that we won't get them all in these two days," he said. "We hope we lay the foundation, however, [so] that as we follow-up on those that will come out to see us, we will continue to cultivate from this. …

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