Friday, November 17, 2017

NOVEMBER 17, 2017 07:01 PM
UPDATED NOVEMBER 17, 2017 07:03 PM

On the job for just 93 days as of Friday, Roselyn Artis is not sitting still.

The new president of Benedict College has been moving fast to make changes at the historically black college in downtown Columbia, and wants to see a bigger change in the next school year.

Artis says she plans to cap enrollment at Benedict at 2,000 students next fall. She also wants to slash the school's $29,000-a-year tuition in a bid to make the 147-year-old school more attractive to new students.

The 47-year-old Artis sees the changes as part of a new era of cost cutting at Benedict in hopes of stabilizing the school's financial situation.

"The board has been forthright about some of the challenges Benedict is facing," Artis said in an exclusive interview Friday with The State. "Enrollment has fluctuated over time, and since we're largely enrollment driven (in terms of revenue), that creates a bit of a problem. So when coming here, my first task was really to stabilize our financial picture, to be quite frank."

In recent years, Benedict has dropped from a high of more than 3,000 students in 2011 to a little more than 2,000 today. In the same span of time, Benedict's reported incoming revenue has fallen from $81 million in 2012 to $71.8 million at the end of 2015, according to IRS filings.

"The last chapter in Benedict's book saw a president who was visionary and interested in expansion," Artis said of her predecessor, David Swinton, Benedict's president for 23 years. Swinton's time in charge saw an increase in enrollment, new construction and expansion beyond the school's Harden Street campus.

But that growth came at the cost of stretching the college's finances.

"I'm interested in transitioning us from what was to what must be, frankly in order to remain solvent," Artis said.

No more open enrollment

Changes in enrollment and tuition are meant to make Benedict both more attractive to incoming students, but also "create a sense of urgency" for those considering Benedict, Artis said.

"We have historically been known as an open enrollment institution, which brings with it a certain negative connotation. It does not speak to opportunity, which it was really intended to speak to, but it just means, 'Oh, I'll just go there.' That's not really how this works.

"If you want to choose Benedict, you should probably do that early, because we will close the door at a certain point," she said.

Likewise, the lower tuition – which has yet to be set – is meant to make the school more competitive in the education marketplace. Today's high price tag might discourage some students from even considering Benedict, while scholarships, discounts and subsidies mean the college only sees 41 cents of each dollar nominally owed to the school.

The cost also doesn't match the community that Benedict serves. Sixty-four percent are first-generation college students, and 85 percent receive federal Pell grants.

"That doesn't get these kids there," Artis said. "They are borrowing money. We do not want those kids to leave here with a debt load that is oppressive. It's not giving them a fair shot when they start out in the world if they have oppressive debt loads."

Source: The State Newspaper.

Continue to: "How a Historically Black College changed Benedict's new president's life" (November 17, 2017)

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