Move-out day came a lot sooner than expected in the academic year for many Morehouse College students and staff. President John Wilson announced last week in a letter to alumni that his administration would pursue cost-cutting measures to restore the college’s fiscal health. The plan included the elimination and/or downgrade of 75 staff members and a $2.5 million cut from the College’s operating budget.
“This is a difficult but necessary step we are taking – with the full support of the Board of Trustees – to ensure that Morehouse can operate within our financial means and continue to carry out our educational mission,” Wilson announced in the letter, which has been a hard pill to swallow for many across the Morehouse community.
Wilson’s implementation of cost-cutting measures comes only a semester after efforts to control costs and compensate for low enrollment were initiated by the College’s former President, Dr. Robert Franklin – measures that included furloughs and cuts to non-essential programs. In a November interview with The Maroon Tiger, Franklin and others echoed similar sentiments pertaining to the college’s financial health as Wilson has in recent days.
“Cutting non-essential programs and expenditures is always an option for institutions facing economic challenges,” Franklin said in that article. “If the economy improves, and we reach our desired enrollment, this all becomes history. If these challenges persist, the reality is then to do all we can to increase revenue.”
Franklin and then-provost Dr. Willis Sheftall attributed much of the college’s enrollment challenges last semester to the new underwritten PLUS loan standards that drove the College’s loan acceptance rate down to 46 percent from 60 percent and led to an enrollment drop-off of about 125 first time, degree-seeking freshmen.
Much like the enrollment challenges in previous years, there is a gap between the number of admitted students and the number of students who enrolled this year. The exact number of enrolled freshmen in this year’s class has not been finalized yet.
Associate Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Men Renardo Hall said that the College’s enrollment challenges are not unique to Morehouse and that the federal government is addressing similar problems throughout higher education. He added that Wilson’s decision was a necessary one.
“We would really be in trouble if we didn’t make this necessary decision,” Hall said. “Continuing as we have been would have taken us to the brink.”
Enrollment challenges have also forced the College to consolidate a residence hall. Preparations were being made over the weekend to move White Hall residents into Du Bois. NSO leaders offered assistance to students this week to ease the transition.
“I understand the situation, but I just got in the hall and started classes,” White Hall resident Shaquan Lewis said. “Now I have to pack up and get readjusted.” Lewis was surprised and understanding of the news.
Another White Hall resident, Shaun Cunningham, was more interested in how the College got into this predicament and why administrators weren’t aware weeks ago that the enrollment would call for consolidation.
“Most of the doors in [White Hall] don’t even have names on them, so it was obvious on move-in day that we weren’t going to have a lot of people,” Cunningham said.
Low enrollment might also have an impact on other areas of campus life. Student organizations on campus might be facing budget cuts, though it is not clear what the extent of those cuts might be.
“The funds that student organizations receive come from the funds that students pay,” Hall said. Fewer students amount to less revenue. Hall emphasized that this is one of the reasons Wilson does not want the college to be so tuition driven anymore. In recent years, according to public tax filings, the college has heavily relied on tuition revenue to operate.
With recent cuts to staff and budgets, members of the remaining staff and students were unsettled by the developments.
“I lost colleagues and friends, but it was out of necessity,” Hall said. He added that the College would like to be bigger but it must remain realistic about its size. His response to a student who insists this is “the end of Morehouse”: These are preventive measures to “right-size” the institution and move forward.
Campus News Editor