Enrollment at Texas Southern has dropped to its lowest point in five years and school officials acknowledge that the internal scandals that drew the attention of state lawmakers made an impact.
This fall, 9,544 students are enrolled at the historically black university, down from 11,635 in 2004. The numbers have steadily fallen since, and the latest decline a 15 percent dip from 2006 coincides with the ongoing trial of former school president Priscilla Slade.
Slade was fired in April 2006 and was indicted later in the year for allegedly using public money to lavishly furnish and landscape her home. In May 2006, the school’s chief financial officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for funneling about $300,000 of public funds into secret accounts for Slade.
The allegations against Slade and others coincided with reports that revealed a pattern of financial mismanagement at TSU. During this year’s legislative session, Gov. Rick Perry called for a state takeover of the university that was later put on hold. The entire nine-member board of regents resigned at Perry’s request.
“Unfortunately, a lot of those conversations (in the state Legislature) took place when students were making their decisions,” said Kimberly Williams, vice president of external relations and marketing at TSU. “They will come back.”
But Williams said a variety of factors, including rising tuition, also contributed to the declining number of students on campus this fall.
Other Texas universities, including Sam Houston State, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at El Paso reported all-time highs in enrollment. The University of Houston’s enrollment held steady at 34,660.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat whose district includes TSU, said he believes the enrollment drop at the school will be temporary.
“Most people expected a decline,” Coleman said. “It’s not a surprise because people want to make sure everything is settled before sending their children there.”
Coleman said a lower enrollment could ultimately prove beneficial at a time when the university is seeking stability. Campus leaders are developing a long-range plan to address financial and management missteps and lagging graduation rates.
At one point during the session, Perry called for a conservator to replace the university’s governing board, but he backed away after learning that plan could jeopardize TSU’s accreditation.
The loss of accreditation would diminish the value of degrees from TSU and would cause the federal government to stop providing financial aid to students. Nearly two-thirds of the university’s students receive need-based Pell grants.
“The current notoriety of the university does seem to be a source of concern,” said Paula Roe, scholarship programs coordinator for Project GRAD, which works with 5,000 Houston high-school students. “Academically able African-American students really do have lots of options, and they are courted. They are obviously making other selections, and I think that’s to the detriment of TSU and the Houston community.”
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com
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