Savannah State University is likely to face another round of layoffs if the city’s leadership, pastors, businesses and communities don’t lobby to find students who are committed to enrolling into the university and completing graduation.
Don Waters, the chairman of the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia, says the community must step up. Waters’, who grew up in Savannah, spoke passionately about the dire situation. Savannah State University is one of 11 other universities within the USG systems who are facing declining enrollments. Enrollment creates the state budget formula and it impacts jobs. Since 2014, 838 students stopped attending Savannah State before graduation leaving a budgetary hole for the university; and those same students must pay their education loans without a degree, Waters said.
As of Friday, he said, the university has projected a student body of 3,800 but now it might be 3,600. If there are fewer students there will be layoffs in the coming weeks and next year.
“That’s why I came here tonight,’’ Waters said Sunday to a packed house at the July Mass Meeting for the Savannah Branch of NAACP held at the historic First African Church. Waters said the area needs to create another plan for career ready students at Savannah State and the region.
Chatham County must consider changes in its economic development plan that should center around the universities. It could create a robust hub here much like it does in Atlanta around Georgia State and Georgia Technical College. Savannah must become an economic, viable region at the center of Savannah State University. If Georgia Tech and Georgia State has done it, Savannah State must use its resources using solid programs, such as the marine science and homeland security, which create curriculums that students can find jobs.
Waters’ squashed rumors. There’s no plan to merge Savannah State with Georgia Southern and there’s no plans to merge with Albany State and Fort Valley State into a Historically Black College University system, Waters said.
The community must focus on new local students for Savannah State using the dual enrollment programs with the Savannah-Chatham County School System. Students enroll in the 10th grade, take college classes, earn an associate degree and a diploma within two years. After that, they could complete another degree at Savannah State with a bachelor.
School Board member Cornelia H. Hall said that she and Dionne Hoskins-Brown are encouraging the school system to increase the number of students from Savannah-Chatham County School System.
The university’s culture must rebuild its retention plan. It must be go back to the old ways. When a student who borrowed a loan and the student missed a class the faculty member picked up the telephone and called the student. If they failed a quiz, the faculty and counselor knew the family who worked to get the student back on track. That was the formula for success, Waters said. It’s difficult if we are not recruiting students from here and there’s no jobs available here after graduation.
Amir Jamal Toure, an instructor and alumni of Savannah State, said the university should reconsider the academic gentrification when faculty members who are not invested in the students and the university are hired.
Otis Johnson, a scholar in residence at Savannah State, said that now is the time for the university to find strong leadership. “It’s time to clean house,’’ said the former mayor of Savannah. He said that it must hire permanent deans, department chairs.
Waters said the interim President Kimberly
Ballard-Washington is charged with looking at the current leadership and to hire a new provost before the national search company recommends a new president candidate for a search committee. The committee will primarily be made up of faculty, but to include community leaders.. She is also charged to handle security issues to make a safe campus.
Waters reiterated the university goals should enroll, retain and graduate at Savannah State.
“What about changing the budgetary formula based upon enrollment if it’s not working?” asked former President Carlton E. Brown, who resigned for a new post for the USG in 2006.
Waters said it might consider a change but not now.
For this semester Savannah State must enroll 3,800 and presently it “might be 3,600 students.” If 3,800 students are not enrolled for this fall and stay until graduation, some of the 600 full-time employees will lose their jobs.
Tina A. Brown-MFA is a veteran journalist and author.