Facing a drop in admissions this fall, Johnson C. Smith University announced a series of financial cuts Thursday that include laying off 21 administrative staffers, though faculty members were spared.
“Making the decision to reduce the workforce was not an easy one, and it was not our first option,” said Ronald Carter, JCSU’s president.
In addition to the layoffs, 30 open positions have been frozen at the historically black university on Beatties Ford Road. Carter said administrators are also looking at outsourcing some services, unpaid furloughs for staff and controlling other costs.
In all, Carter said the university was looking to save $3 million to keep it on firm financial footing. JCSU’s annual budget is about $37 million.
Enrollment at the beginning of last fall was 1,801, the highest in the university’s 146-year history. This year’s fall enrollment is 1,387, in part because of changes in federal aid and loans, Carter said.
About 300 students who had reported for the fall semester failed to qualify for aid they were eligible for last year, Carter said. Money was found for about 180 of them through various avenues, including support from alumni and other aid from the university. JCSU’s annual tuition expense for full-time students is $18,236; room charges are about $4,000, and the meal plan is about $3,000. About half of JCSU’s students live on campus.
Aid standards change
Some students have been affected by changes in the federal PLUS loans, which augment other sources of financial aid. Before 2012, applicants were only judged on their credit scores, but now credit histories are factored in as well and fewer families are qualifying.
Carter said that change has impacted 144,000 potential students nationally, including 28,000 applying at historically black universities and colleges.
Pell grants have changed as well. They end after four years, which can be a hardship for students who work while attending college. Working students tend to take lighter course loads and take longer to complete their degrees, Carter said.
About 85 percent of JCSU students rely on federal tuition assistance. “A day does not pass when a parent or student doesn’t plead for the university to assist with some gap funding,” Carter said.
Black colleges have been hard-hit by the changes. For example, Chancellor Donald Reaves of Winston-Salem State University told Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., earlier this year that his school, with about 4,500 full-time undergraduates, had lost about 750 students in the 2011-2012 school year.
There are 11 historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina and eight in South Carolina. JCSU has a full-time faculty of 103.
Carter said the university is beginning to face a “student drought” that had long been predicted as the numbers of high school seniors headed to college begin to dip. It is a trend that is being carefully watched on campuses nationally.
This year, there were 3.2 million high school graduates, the lowest number since 2006. Predictions show the number of high school graduates climbing slowly over the next three years, peaking at 3.32 million in 2016, according to the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education.
There isn’t expected to be another large spike in high school graduates until 2024 when the numbers are predicted to possibly crest at 3.5 million.
“This is the second year of maybe a four-year dip,” said Brian Ralph, vice president for enrollment management at Queen University, which saw a dip in new students this year, including transfers, from about 440 last year to about 400 this fall.
Other programs at JCSU
Carter said JCSU’s $53 million endowment is performing well since the recession, though he would like to see it grow to $200 million so the university could achieve all its goals.
He said other key projects on campus, including the $25 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics center under construction and largely underwritten by a Duke Foundation grant, are unaffected by the recent financial problems.
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