The Way Forward: A Narrative On The Future Of SC State University

South Carolina State UniversityIn the Beginning…….. 

Since its founding as a colored Normal institution in 1896, SC State University has been a beacon on the hill in the higher education community of the South.  The fact that this institution’s heritage derived from its designation as a historically black college or university (HBCU) was secondary to its storied and illustrious reputation as a place where young ordinary people with mammoth dreams entered and exceptional transformed global citizens emerged. These ambassadors would take their acquired talents across the globe and serve in various careers and capacities that bolstered America’s workforces as well as contributed significantly to this nation’s super power status around the world.

Being a SC State Bulldog was royalty.  That “Bulldog Tenacity” wasn’t just a catch phrase, it was a state of doing and being for those who proudly wore the badge.  It was the feeling of pride you got when you heard the rhythm of the Marching 101 Band, or hummed along with the chimes of the clock tower on the Miller F. Whittaker Library as they sounded out the alma mater or the Evening Song.  It was the roar of devoted students, alumni and supportive fans in the football stadium as they watched a bulldog football team trample its competitors as a force to be reckoned with in the MEAC conference.

Ask any Bulldog who stood along the chilly route of the Homecoming parade as it snaked along Russell Street in Orangeburg, then hooked a hard left turn on the railroad corner at Magnolia Street to make its way onto campus for Homecoming.  The Bulldog experience was not simply memorable, it was indelible.

Historians have penned SC State University as an institution where history was made.  From post Civil War through the Civil Rights Era, defining events that influenced monumental change took place on the campus of SC State University. History tells of the transformation of a people and culture within the classroom walls of SC State University where excellence in everything was the standard.  A coveted degree from SC State opened doors of opportunity and allowed dreams to be realized.

The Current Situation

Today, a snapshot of SC State displays the campus sitting pristinely on 160-acres in the center of Orangeburg, SC where it opened nearly 120 years ago.  Boasting more than 70 degree majors the institution continues to garner top national and international rankings for its stellar academic programs and innovative research, its brilliant students who excel and receive acclaim for their successes, and for the scholars and mentors who train them.  A new generation of Bulldogs sport business suits as well has urban hip-hop garb, and natural twisted hair-dos have become the stylish norm alongside freshly barbered and silky-pressed coiffures.  Young millennials and neophytes come to SC State to pursue degrees in nuclear engineering, agri-business, speech pathology, the fine arts, teacher education and other nationally accredited programs.  But in recent months, the legacy of excellence once touted by SC State and its supporters has been muddied.

Over the last dozen years the university has experienced serious declines in student enrollment. Unstable leadership and allegations of financial mismanagement as well as the arrests and convictions of executive officers of the university have marred the university’s once stellar image.  A revolving door of university presidents as well as unqualified board members have created a perfect storm of chaos that has fueled public mistrust and created a public relations nightmare for SC State.  In February, 2014, the university’s 11th president, Thomas J. Elzey, was inaugurated amidst a climate of doubt that the once chief financial officer could resolve the university’s financial issues weighted by some $13 million in bad debt.  Just more than a year later, a self-fulfilling prophecy spirited by yet another questionable board of trustees, sent President Elzey packing at a time when the university was in the middle of its response to a sanction imposed by its accreditation agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges.  South Carolina’s Governor, Nikki Haley, and state lawmakers pointed fingers at an SC State which they claimed had a history riddled in controversy, confusion, and corruption.

Fast-forward to March, 2015.  Acting President W. Franklin Evans, the university’s Provost, is now at the helm.  The 10-member board of trustees is now the target for rocket-speed legislation calling for its removal.  And the General Assembly is claiming its commitment to finally cleaning up the “mess” they refer to as SC State University. The lives of the university’s 3,000 students now appear pawns in a politically charged game and test of enormous egos and strong wills determined to win the prize for saving SC State, but as the political posturing continues, there is still important work to be done back on campus in Orangeburg.  That’s the important work that now President Evans is keenly focused on.  How to increase student enrollment and retention….How to recruit and keep top-notched faculty….How to pay back millions in vendor debt and maintain a balance budget, and most importantly, How to preserve the academy that has for so many years, earned the university its prominence in the higher education community.  They’re all questions that must be answered in Evans’ plan to move the university forward.

The Way Forward

Under the leadership of Acting President W. Franklin Evans, the university’s vision is to create an environment where the university recruits and retains the best faculty to help students achieve their potential. The objective is that the ranks of SC State students will go on to become Rhodes Scholars, MacArthur Fellows, Fulbright Scholars, Nobel Laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.  As professionals and experts in the workforce, they will addresses the complex systems of change in globalization and technology and become community and global citizens who inspire and influence positive change for mankind.  But before the vision is fully realized, Evans, with the backing of a newly appointed board of trustees and financial support from the State of South Carolina as well as from SC State alumni, will first have to establish some foundational footholds.

Simply put, “The Plan” seeks to :

1. Increase student enrollment

2. Enhance Revenue Generation

3. Improve Academic Programs

4. Engage Alumni

At the center of these four foundational pieces is the SC State University student, the key motivation and purpose for any ambitious venture to make SC State strong again.

The University now embarks on the execution of a multi-year, multi-faceted enrollment management plan that will restore its enrollment to levels that will sustain the university’s programmatic and operational objectives.  Likewise, the university has launched the most ambitious capital campaign in its history, aimed at systematically eroding debt, building a strong endowment, and providing competitive scholarships for the nation’s best and brightest students.  Additionally, the university is updating its long outdated alumni database and is engaging alumni who have not been involved with the university for years.  Including them in fundraising as well as recruitment and advocacy activities for the university gives them a sense of ownership that was lost when many of them parted ways with a troubled institution.

The Plan has the makings of SUCCESS.  It will take the commitment of entire Bulldog Nation to turn the wheels.  The Governor and state lawmakers must stand on the line where the rubber meets the road and make the proper investment that will ensure a hearty return.  Most importantly, faculty, staff, alumni from around the world, and Greater Orangeburg citizens must unselfishly give their money, their time, and their collective talents to rebuilding SC State.

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