College Support Strong Despite Economic Challenges
Robert M. Franklin, President
February 10, 2009
Dear Morehouse College Community:
Against a backdrop of widespread economic downturn and associated anxiety, Morehouse is fortunate to have another story to tell—one that is hopeful and heartening. This note provides an update on our situation, something I promised to do last month.
First, our recent fund-raising efforts have provided
immediate aid to students in need.
On Friday, January 31, I sent an appeal to Morehouse College alumni and trustees urging them to come to the aid of Morehouse students whose families have been negatively impacted by the economy and who would not be able to remain in school without additional support. I am pleased to report that, within one week, Morehouse alumni have contributed approximately $72,000 to keep our students in school, and funds continue to arrive daily. These acts of generosity demonstrate the commitment to our great College that has always been a part of the Morehouse value system. We are grateful to our alumni, trustees and College supporters for their continued dedication to keeping the Morehouse dream alive for many of today’s students.
Second, an aggressive and proactive plan to control
and align spending with a commitment to academic excellence
is in place.
You should be aware that, for the past year, we have been tightening our belts in anticipation of this downturn. I applaud all our employees for heeding this necessary call for austerity. As I mentioned in recent meetings with faculty, staff and students, our senior executive team is now working on an 18month financial plan that will allow us to strategically and prudently manage what we anticipate will be even tougher times ahead. I shared with you specific cost-reduction steps from this plan, including a decrease in the number of adjunct faculty, which we implemented in anticipation of an enrollment reduction this semester.
With the close of registration, we now have confirmation that a higher than usual percentage of students was unable to return for the spring semester. Ordinarily, we see a five percent enrollment decline between semesters. This is an unacceptably high attrition rate that has numerous causes and that we are working to reverse. This year, despite extending registration and identifying additional scholarship funds, that figure was closer to eight percent. But, thanks to careful planning, our previous cost reductions will allow us to absorb this higher decline while maintaining our budget. And, although there are some indications that our families may realize additional support through President Obama’s economic stimulus package--which, for instance, increases Pell Grant funding--we anticipate that some students and families will continue to face severe financial challenges going into next year.
Accordingly, the senior executive team, with the counsel of the Budget Advisory Taskforce, will continue to proactively manage and invest in mission-critical areas to ensure that the College operates efficiently and with minimal impact to the high-quality education we provide. This strategy may yield the need for additional cost-reduction measures. We are looking at many cost centers, including health insurance, information technology, utilities, campus events and fixed costs. Although furloughs and reductions in the work force are measures of last resort, obviously, if our enrollment declines further, we will have to adjust the cost of our personnel budget in accord with advancing our mission of high quality education. I will keep you informed as plans develop over the next several months.
We know that many of you have seen the recent media coverage of cost-cutting measures being implemented by our Atlanta University Center neighbors, Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College. We fully expect our colleagues to emerge stronger as they restructure and realign operations. We have been working closely with the other presidents and senior leadership teams to ensure that students at each of our schools continue to receive quality instruction and services. In fact, exciting possibilities are being explored for increased collaborations that provide savings to our students. Morehouse students who are cross-registered for courses impacted by the changes at our sister institutions will not be penalized; our administration will make satisfactory arrangements with these students immediately.
Finally, my confidence in Morehouse remains strong.
Our brand is strong; application demand is up over last year. We continue to make strategic investments in the Morehouse of tomorrow, such as the Performing Arts Center. Additionally, we are developing and sustaining partnerships with world-class institutions such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where our students are accessing the world’s fastest supercomputer. And, we continue to raise money.
Involving alumni and pursuing an aggressive, technology-driven fund-raising effort are important parts of our plan to thrive in these difficult times, but only address the revenue component of our budget. I, therefore, am calling upon each of you to exercise care in the use and stewardship of all of our resources. To that end, please be mindful of the restrictions on travel, furniture, equipment and catered food already imposed. In addition, be thoughtful and deliberate about your work, making mission-critical work the first priority.
Perhaps most important, stay positive. We must not allow our attitudes to defeat us when the economy could not. We are Morehouse, and we will thrive far into the hopeful future.
Again, thank you for your team spirit and support.
Robert M. Franklin