South Carolina State University trustees say they need to attract more students to improve the university’s finances.
"We are still living paycheck to paycheck," S.C. State board Chairman Milton Irving told trustees.
He said, “until we get a lot more money, until we have what would be a cushion, every decision is a tough decision."
S.C. State trustees discussed enrollment and their role in attracting more students during a Wednesday meeting.
Irving said it’s the duty of the trustees to use their contacts to bring more students to the university.
"We certainly want to make sure we persist in fundraising efforts and enrollment," he said.
Trustee Dr. Wilbur Shuler said the university’s unrestricted money comes largely from student fees.
"As long as our enrollment stays low, there are many things we won't be able to do ... even though we know there are dire needs,” he said.
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President James Clark said the university has a “working target” to attract 1,000 new students for the fall of 2019. Current enrollment is a little over 3,000.
Clark said the university is aggressively trying to recruit and retain students.
Recently, university officials attended 35 recruitment events in South and North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. Those events alone yielded 340 new freshmen.
University officials also visited four technical colleges out of the 16 across the state.
Clark said the university is also trying to increase its student retention rate from 72 percent to 82 percent.
From the fall of 2018 to the spring of 2019, 430 undergraduates did not return to the university due to academic or financial issues, he said.
He said the university is also trying to increase the number of student internship, job, graduate and professional school placements by 50 percent by 2022.
Trustee Dr. Daniel R. Varat, who is from the Upstate, and Clark visited superintendents in Greenville, Pickens and Oconee counties to help draw more students.
"They said we really don't see State in our district," Varat related to the board.
Over the last five years, about 25 students from Greenville County attended S.C. State, he said.
"There are 75,000 children in the Greenville County School District," he said. Between 6,000 to 8,000 students graduate annually, with 85 percent going to college.
"That is a goldmine up there for students, for athletes," Varat said.
He said S.C. State will get more involved.
"They were extremely excited. They want to be reengaged with South Carolina State,” he said.
Clark said S.C. State is trying to also reengage with the University Center in Greenville. The center offers educational space to about a dozen universities with alternative ways of delivering programs.
"We in the past were participants," Clark said. "We pressed pause, so to say."
"The opportunity is significant there," Clark said.
Trustee Hamilton R. Grant asked Shuler what enrollment would be good for the university.
Shuler said about 4,500.
"I would like to see South Carolina State grow, but I don't want it to grow so large and lose that personal touch," Shuler said.
Clark said the “sweet spot” for enrollment would be about 3,700. The 4,500 figure would be the max the university could hold, but it would need a “massive infusion of cash” in order to be able to do so.
He said the university's desired goal is to increase student enrollment to 3,500 by 2022
Grant also asked what the university is doing to handle this projected growth.
"Short term, there is no immediate change in place. Long-term we have started planning," Clark said. "We think we are still ahead of what our real needs are in terms of growth and enrollment over the next years."
He reminded trustees that the university saw enrollment drop for eight years.
"When you have been falling like that, you don't have immediate upticks," he said. "It is going to be a gradual, managed growth that we are recovering from."
Faculty Senate President Dr. David Staten said it’s not out of the realm of possibility to reach 4,500 students.
"When you look at the level of facilities we have, it is beyond patching these buildings up," Staten said. "If we really want to recruit the next generation of high-level, talented students, we’ll have to do a major upgrade of facilities.”
Staten noted the buildings the university has were around when he was a student.
"A lot of these buildings are not going to keep us in a competitive place in the market," he said.
In other business:
• Acting Vice President for Finance and Management Teare Brewington said the university’s finances “are about where we expected to be” and S.C. State is financially stable.
"We will take a closer look at the January numbers," Brewington said. "Now that we finalized spring enrollment, we can see where we are."
Brewington has asked departments to start identifying where cuts could be possible if cuts are needed.
Clark stressed the university is not making cuts but will review the matter further to determine if any are needed.
"We are going to take a close look at it," Brewington said.
Irving reminded trustees the university has about a $500,000 cushion to operate with in the current fiscal year’s budget, but next year's will be contingent upon fall enrollment.
• Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Learie B. Luke informed trustees the university will need to submit its final certification report to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges by September 2019. He said the university is on track to meet the deadline.
• Clark informed trustees there is $600 million available for research at Historically Black College and Universities as part of the 2018 Farm Bill.
"We have to compete for it," he said. "We have as good a position as practically any other HBCU to be able to go after our fair share of those dollars."
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