Johnson C. Smith University has topped its $150 million fund-raising goal, a triumph that departing President Ron Carter says “shows that JCSU is not in financial crisis.”
The private historically black university on Charlotte’s west side has raised more than $159 million since 2010, in a campaign designed to culminate with the school’s celebration of its 150th anniversary in 2017.
The announcement came shortly after an accrediting group put the university on probation for a year based on concerns about financial stability and control. The decision, which university officials say is based on one footnote in the latest financial audit, means the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, an Atlanta-based accrediting agency, will visit the campus in fall of 2018 and vote next December on whether to renew accreditation.
In a statement to the Observer Wednesday, Carter says the university’s money struggles trace to two sources: The Great Recession and “the Parent PLUS loan debacle in 2012-13.” That happened when the university discovered that the federal government had tightened loan eligibility standards, limiting the money families could borrow toward a child’s education and putting 300 students’ future at JCSU at immediate risk.
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Both challenges forced JCSU to tap its endowment and operating budget to keep as many students as possible in school, Carter said. About $39.5 million from the “Tomorrow Is What We Make It” campaign has gone toward scholarships and enrollment strategy, according to a breakdown provided Wednesday.
The biggest portion, $64.3 million, is tagged for capital projects and a “vibrant campus experience,” including a new science center and renovated residence halls. The university has also budgeted $41.7 million in donations for academic resources and $14 million for the JCSU Fund.
“We knew that $150 million was an ambitious goal when we launched our comprehensive campaign, but we were confident that JCSU’s stakeholders and the community would partner with us to reach it,” said Board of Trustees Chair Shirley J. Hughes.
The single biggest gift was $35 million from The Duke Endowment. In 2018 the Griffin family will be honored for a $1 million bequest from the Larry A. Griffin and Michael L. Griffin family trusts.
Carter, who retires at the end of this month after nine years as president, said the campaign shows JCSU is positioned well for the future.
“A majority of colleges and universities are stretched financially, and JCSU is no exception,” Carter said. “This is the new normal in today’s higher education landscape. With the realization that the marketplace has changed, the Board of Trustees and administration decided to embark upon an ambitious comprehensive campaign to help ensure that the University is able to thrive – not just survive – during this era of tight budgets in higher education.”
Clarence “Clay” Armbrister takes over as university president on Jan. 1. He has served as president of Philadelphia’s Girard College, an independent college preparatory school for students from economically disadvantaged families; chief operating officer at Temple University; managing director for the School District of Philadelphia; Philadelphia’s city treasurer and the mayor’s chief of staff.