Houston & Peach

Though other historically black colleges are hurting, FVSU's enrollment, construction projects moving forward

FORT VALLEY — While the foundering economy has caused some historically black colleges and universities in Georgia to make drastic cutbacks, Fort Valley State University is chugging forward.

Its aggressive capital improvement campaign is on track, and the university plans to open the recently completed $19.3 million phase of Wildcat Commons — its state-of-the-art, 370-bed dormitory — within the next month.

A new $16.8 million science academic building is expected to open as early as this fall, and the Board of Regents has approved several master’s degree programs in education and biotechnology.

Other historically black colleges and universities in the state aren’t faring as well.

Clark Atlanta University laid off 100 employees due to declining enrollment. Morehouse College did not renew contracts for 25 adjunct professors. And Spelman College eliminated 35 positions and announced plans to phase out its college of education.

Compared to those institutions, times may be better for the Fort Valley institution, but FVSU officials say the times are still challenging.

This year, the university had to cut its budget by 10 percent, and the university’s endowment has dropped below $5 million.

“We are not immune to what is going on in the rest of the world economically,” said Melody Carter, vice president of external affairs.

Yet, she is quick to credit the university’s president, Larry Rivers, for the university’s continued progress. Rivers set goals to increase enrollment and fundraising, while also improving the university’s image. Carter also points to Rivers’ emphasis on fiscal responsibility and quality education.

Rivers credits the university’s staff for the continued success and for making the university appealing to students across the state and nation. The more students the university adds, the better off it will be, Rivers said.

“The ability to continue to grow and not furlough or lay anyone off is due to our growing enrollment,” he said, adding he expects 800 to 1,200 additional students in fall 2009. The university enrolled 3,106 students in fall 2008.

When it came to trimming the budget, Carter said FVSU looked at everything in its effort to retain faculty.

“He understands we can only be so lean before student services suffer,” Carter said.

Daniel Wims, the university’s executive vice president and vice president of academic affairs, said that unlike the private black colleges in Atlanta, FVSU receives funding from the state and, as a result, can offer lower tuition. That, he said, helps FVSU because more students are more cost-conscious and are viewing state universities as an option.

“We are a better value at this time,” Wims said.

Adding students means increased revenue from tuition and fees that offset reductions in state funding.

Carter said the university is working to financially assist current and prospective students. Every year, the university holds an annual scholarship luncheon. This year, Carter said the luncheon brought in more than $120,000, almost $20,000 less than last year.

But Carter said the fundraising effort will continue through the university’s fiscal year. Also, the university’s Wildcat student loan fund allows students to continue their education while showing fiscal responsibility, she added. Carter said the university also plans to look at other forms of financial help for students.

“We have to be more creative and find innovative ways to serve the student body,” Carter said.

Funding definitely played a key role in Shanoria Morgan’s decision to attend FVSU. The graduating senior had her heart set on attending Spelman. However, when she learned the institution’s dorms weren’t air conditioned and that she would have to pay out of pocket for her education, she had second thoughts.

When FVSU offered her a full scholarship, she couldn’t say no.

“I tell everybody I got paid,” Morgan said of her full scholarship. “There’s no comparison between no air conditioning and getting paid.”

Like Morgan, freshman Dominique Nichols had his eye on an Atlanta college. He wanted to attend Morehouse, but he changed his mind when FVSU offered him a full ride and he got a chance to take in the campus atmosphere as a potential student.

“Something seemed different that made me fall in love with the campus,” said Nichols, who had visited FVSU before during summer camps.

Morgan said those at FVSU should be aware of what’s happening at the other institutions.

“I feel like we’re doing OK, but I know all the historically black colleges and universities have to look out for each other. What happens at one could have a domino effect.”

Rivers said he remains optimistic that support from the community, his colleagues, the local legislative delegation and the Board of Regents will keep FVSU moving in the right direction.

“I’m feeling really good about Fort Valley State University right now,” Rivers said.