Morehouse president moves college ahead

An interview with Dr. John Silvanus Wilson

Bridgit Brown | 3/21/2013, noon

What are some of the specific funding challenges that HBCUs face?

In terms of funding challenges faced by HBCUs, it’s not terribly different from other institutions. The federal government is shrinking a bit, but in general there is less federal funding available to higher education. States are withdrawing their support. More than half of the HBCUs are state-controlled colleges.

There are challenges in the private sector as well. I wrote about that in particular in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I want to speak specifically though, in terms of funding challenges, about alumni giving.

The national average on alumni giving is roughly 13 percent. HBCUs average around 8 percent of alumni giving. Morehouse is roughly at 30 percent, so we are higher than the national average on alumni giving, but we’re not as high as we want and need to be and so in looking at the financial challenges that we have at Morehouse, we are looking at it holistically.

Sure, we would like to get more federal support in terms of research. We’d love to be embraced more by the philanthropic community in general, and we’re also pressing to get our alumni to give even more than they do now. We’re not content to be above the alumni or the average for HBCUs. We want and need them to give a whole lot more.

I am going to work hard to engage more of our alums. I’m going to get out and ask for their support, and I’m going to be very clear about the reasons why we have a great value proposition and they ought to support us. And I should mention that we also have a lot of excitement growing in our alumni base because on May 19, 2013, we’re going to be visited by the President of the United States as our graduation speaker at Morehouse College.

This will be the first time that any college or university in the state of Georgia has been visited by a sitting United States president to be the graduation speaker. There are a number of states in America that have not had that, so we’re going to make history in May. We’re proud of that, and our alumni are very excited, and the excitement is growing. We’re going to see an uptick in support from alumni on that basis.

Can you talk about the broken financial model in higher education and explain some solutions that you have for preparing the model at Morehouse?

There’s been a lot of recognition on some high-profile platforms that the financial model in higher education is broken and many colleges and universities have reached a price point that is very difficult for most of the families in America. The tuition is way too high and it is very difficult for many families to figure out how to pull together the resources through a combination of loans and grants and just spending their hard-earned money.

How to figure out how to do that for four years straight and get one student through college — never mind multiple students through college — and that’s the basis for which there has been a recognition that the financial model is broken.