Monday, December 19, 2016

FAMU working to prevent enrollment financial losses from becoming SACS problem

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has continued to show that it isn’t interested in hearing any excuses from institutions that are going through financial struggles due to enrollment declines.

Earlier this month, Bennett College announced that SACS had placed it on probation due, in large part, to financial problems. According to the Greensboro News & Record, “the financial struggles at Bennett, a private women’s college, have been closely linked with a decline in enrollment. Enrollment has fallen by nearly half since it peaked in 2010 at 780 students. This fall, enrollment stood at 403 students.”

The newspaper added that Bennett had a $2M deficit in 2014 and a deficit of about $1.25M in 2015. SACS cited Bennett for not complying with standards on the “Governing Board,” “Financial resources and stability,” and “Financial stability.”

A statement by the SACS Commission on Colleges from December 15 explained that: “These standards expect an institution to provide evidence that it (1) has a governing board that is ultimately responsible for ensuring adequate financial resources, (2) has a sound financial base and resources, and (3) demonstrates financial stability.” 

FAMU has lost about $27.4M in tuition and fees due to declining enrollment since 2012-2013. It could lose millions more in 2016-2017 due to the enrollment drop this year.

Back at a June meeting of the FAMU Board of Trustees (BOT), then-President Elmira Mangum said the enrollment decline was a concern because it could affect essential faculty jobs for programs that FAMU needs in order to keep its accreditation with SACS.

“61 percent of our resources are in salaries,” Mangum said.

But at her last BOT meeting in September, Mangum defended the enrollment decline that happened during her presidency (April 2014-September 2016). Enrollment went from 10,233 in Fall 2014 to 9,619 in Fall 2016.

“Quantity does have to be sacrificed in order to get quality,” she told the BOT.

The enrollment trends at North Carolina A&T University, North Carolina Central University and Jackson State University show that Mangum’s claim isn’t true. All three succeeded in growing their enrollments and raising their average freshman GPAs at the same time. Those three universities had enrollment bumps with freshman classes that had 3.0+ average GPAs in 2015-2016.

At a FAMU BOT Workshop on December 13, the FAMU Division of Finance and Administration included enrollment on a list of “High Level Issues” for the university.

The list mentioned the Moody’s Higher Education Outlook for FAMU. Rattler Nation reported in October that the enrollment drop under Mangum was a key factor in the recent decision by Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade FAMU’s dormitory bond rating.

“Related SACSCOC Accreditation core principles and comprehensive standards” were also part of the list. The division referred to “Financial Stability” and “Financial Resources,” which were two areas where Bennett College was found to be out-of-compliance mainly due to the financial losses from its enrollment decline. “Control of finances” was also on the FAMU list.

“Control of physical resources” and “Operates and maintains appropriate physical resources” were the two other SACS requirements on the “High Level Issues” list.

At the meeting, trustees were told that if FAMU doesn’t obtain $622,000 required for the mandatory repairs to Bragg Memorial Stadium, then some sections of the football stadium will have to be closed. FAMU has had less to spend on athletics in recent years mainly because of the enrollment decline, which has reduced the amount that FAMU receives from student athletic fees.

Interim President Larry Robinson and the BOT have agreed that student recruitment will be one of the top priorities for his administration.  

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