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Plan Seeks to Grow Enrollment at Struggling Central State University

Central State University, the only historically Black public institution in Ohio and one of the state’s smallest universities, may be hitting a growth spurt if state regents adopt what local papers call a “rescue proposal” for the school.

A task force of educators formed by the Ohio Board of Regents has developed a proposal called “Speed to Scale” that will allow CSU, located in Wilberforce, to more than triple its enrollment to 6,000 students in the next seven to eight years.

“We wouldn’t use the word ‘rescue’ Central State, we use the word ‘accelerate’ Central State,” says Dr. E. Garrison Walters, the board’s interim chancellor.

“[CSU] is an important resource for the state, but under the current way the state’s funding system works, it really doesn’t have much of an opportunity to get to its full potential,” he says. “So we need to look at alternative ways to allow the university to reach its full potential for the state. And that’s what we are working on.”

This announcement comes a little more than a year after state legislators cut CSU’s funding by $821,000, or 4.75 percent, for 2006 — the largest percentage cut among Ohio’s 13 public universities. The state is slicing another $588,000 for 2007. Earlier this year, trustees approved an increase in tuition and fees for the university, which has a long history of financial and enrollment problems.

CSU was slated for closure if it failed to meet the requirements of a 1997 state bailout, needed after the school amassed between $8 million and $11 million in debt. Its student body numbers peaked in the early 1990s at about 3,200, then fell to 1,000 students by mid-decade. Through improved recruiting efforts, the school is up to 1,776 students. 

Under the proposed plan, called a “rescue proposal” in The Columbus Dispatch, CSU officials will draw on the marketing, admissions and student retention experiences of three community colleges — Cincinnati State, Cuyahoga and Sinclair — as well as the University of Cincinnati and The Ohio State University. 

In addition to offering their institutional knowledge, the community colleges will provide a transfer pipeline to CSU, and perhaps even dual admission. Cincinnati and Ohio State are expected to give guaranteed admissions to their graduate programs to high-achieving CSU graduates, Walters says.

“All of them are interested in kind of a continuing relationship where they continue to work with Central State until it gets to scale,” he adds.

The task force will present the final draft of “Speed to Scale” to the board on January 17 for approval. The details of the plan, in terms of physical infrastructure, personnel and faculty, have yet to be fully worked out.

One of the state’s goals is to increase the proportion of people in the state with baccalaureate training, says Dr. Gary Schumacher, a retired Ohio University professor who is heading up the task force. Thus, the state is seeking to provide more access to college for low-income high school students, a population CSU has historically served.

The expansion of CSU will also give Black high school students another higher education option.

“Most kids have a lot of options, and we think young African-Americans need to have a range of options too,” Walters says. 

Through this plan, components of which were inspired by a similar North Carolina plan, CSU should receive some enrollment stability and growth.

“The ultimate goal is to get Central State to a size where it can operate with the usually efficiency of a public university and be able to effectively serve a wide-range constituency,” Walters says. “We think, based on what we’ve observed in North Carolina with their focused growth program, that this is a realistic, achievable objective.”

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