But in his own words, Morehouse’s money woes are about much more than the national economy hitting a speed bump. An excerpt from his letter, as first published by the Maroon Tiger Newspaper.
That is why over the next five years, my primary focus will be on generating more revenues and efficiencies for the College. My administration will implement an aggressive enrollment management plan to attract more students who can afford to pay for a Morehouse education. And we will use our scholarships more strategically to ensure that we are focusing support on students who have the highest potential to benefit from being at Morehouse.
Schools like Morehouse and Howard University, which is experiencing its own money woes, are singing the blues not because the country is in bad financial shape, but because the black people in the best financial shape no longer want to send their children to our most prestigious institutions.
Of the five most prominent HBCUs – Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, Fisk and Hampton, all have faced the growing reality of expedited financial right-sizing. Spelman cut ties with the NCAA to save money and make students healthier. Hampton has capped its enrollment to ensure it attracts and retains students who want to be there and succeed.
Howard has had its money issues aired publicly by the top levels of leadership. Morehouse cuts more than seven percent of its workforce, and Fisk escaped closure by selling off a portion of a prestigious art collection.
It has been convenient to blame some of these actions on incompetent or absent leadership, but the harsh reality is the adjustment these schools are making to accommodate their lack of rich students with an “I ain’t worried bout’ nothing” wherewithal to afford full tuition and fees.
These five schools, just 10-15 years ago, were still replete with a healthy percentage of students who needed no financial aid, and had parents who wanted to give to the school on top of cutting bi-annual tuition checks.
Between 2009 and 2011, the total number of Pell Grant receiving undergraduates at these schools increased by at least four percent. At Morehouse, the percentage increased from 43 percent to 49 percent. Pell grant eligibility is a strong indicator of the potential to fall short academically and financially – a double-whammy when it comes to retention and graduation rates, and a common bugaboo for the elite black institutions.
Reversing the trend is not easy, because simply recruiting smarter, richer black students or increasing recruitment of rich students from other racial demographics not only presents a disconnect from the HBCU mission, but a disingenuous approach to higher education which would make HBCUs just like predominantly white colleges who are poaching our students in the effort to meet racial status quo. Do we really want to be reported as part of the institutional cohort that is making higher education accessible only to the wealthy?
The solution is simply more effective screening of students – are the students we are recruiting able to communicate effectively through writing and speech? Are we screening for aptitude not just in standardized tests, but the capacity to do a job or to create one for themselves? Are we valuing community service, involvement in faith-based volunteerism, and signs of leadership as the key metrics for who can be a solid student likely to graduate?
HBCUs still have a prominent place in the hearts and minds of black students worldwide. They are still hopeful that our schools can emerge from stereotypes of crime, ineffective leadership, apathetic student body and campuses lacking innovation and creativity at all levels of learning and living. These things are possible, but they all begin with the reality that our student profiles are growing poorer – not just in money, but in potential.
And while we have pretended that the HBCU remains the collective body which can build financial and character-based wealth, we are proving to be the exact opposite in the management of our enrollments and mission. The struggles of the HBCU elite aren’t the worst of our problems, but an ominous sign that the worst is yet to come for the culture at large.