New FVSU president implements plan to conquer challenges

New FVSU president implements plan to conquer challenges

jmink@macon.comDecember 8, 2013 

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Fort Valley State University President Ivelaw Griffith

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It’s been four months since Ivelaw Griffith took the helm of Fort Valley State University, and he has encountered his share of obstacles. There are retention and graduation issues, financial challenges and a decline in enrollment.

While historically black colleges and universities across the nation face similar problems, Griffith argues those issues are not necessarily limited to HBCUs but are plaguing many colleges across the country. Still, the new president has a strategy, and he said he has already begun implementing that plan.

“These issues are not unique to HBCUs ... grappling with leadership challenges and enrollment challenges, those are across the board issues,” he said.

In Fort Valley State’s case, enrollment has increased compared to a decade ago, but it has steadily declined over the past few years. Enrollment dropped nearly 11 percent from 3,568 students in fall 2012 to 3,180 students in fall 2013, according to the University System of Georgia.

Retention and graduation numbers also need a boost, Griffith said. From fall 2011 to fall 2012, about 58 percent of new, full-time students continued their studies at the university. About 22 percent of part-time students returned. The overall graduation rate was 29 percent for students who began college in 2006, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Those figures pale in comparison to the nationwide rates.

In 2010, the average retention rate for full-time students at all institutions was 72 percent. The average rate for part-time students was 44 percent. In 2011, the average graduation rate for full-time, first-time students nationwide was 59 percent, according to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics.

“We have an unacceptably low rate of retention. We have an unacceptably low rate of graduation,” Griffith said.

He is making changes in the enrollment management division and has plans to amp up customer service. One of those plans simply involves name tags. Employees, even the president, will wear identification badges, so current and future students will not only know who they’re talking to but know the specific person to compliment or complain about, Griffith said.

Additionally, Griffith wants not only to bring in more students but more advanced students. He is implementing an undergraduate research program, giving research opportunities to students beginning their freshman years. Griffith plans to seek funding for such programs instead of relying solely on individual professors to get research grants, he said.

Furthermore, he will soon establish an honors program, which will not only be an academic tool but also a recruitment tool, he said.

“We are going to be intentionally recruiting students for honors,” he said.

International students

Another plan might be a controversial one, Griffith said. He wants to open the door for more international students, particularly Hispanic students, to attend FVSU. Not only will it make the campus more diverse and give international students a quality education, but it will bring much-needed revenue to the university, he said. Griffith plans to travel to South America on behalf of the university in January.

“How do we get international students who can pay their own way and get companies that can (financially) help them?” he asked. “We need those out-of-state and out-of-country dollars, and we need to broaden the types of students here.”

Finances are a hardship for FVSU and for institutions across the nation.

Griffith has rehired a director of development, a position that was cut to save money but one Griffith argues is needed to run financial campaigns.

While he intends to request a larger amount of state dollars compared to the previous year, Griffith also realizes FVSU can no longer rely on state money.

“I’m not looking only for the state to give us money,” Griffith said. “I’m going to beat the doors of corporations. I’m going to beat the doors of alumni. ... We’ve got to have an all-access approach to fundraising.”

Still, there are some problems facing other institutions that Fort Valley State has under control. For example, while some facilities are aged and need updating, overall FVSU has “wonderful facilities,” Griffith said.

Over the past seven years, about $185 million was pumped into new academic buildings, residence halls, a new stadium and several refurbished structures.

But some buildings still are in need of repairs. Carnegie Hall, for example, will begin renovations in January to house the new honors program, Griffith said.

“I’m not in the business of whining and complaining and looking back,” he said. “I’m in the business of looking forward and making a difference.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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