With another review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools fast approaching, fundraising at Talladega College has become a top priority.
The school, led by newly appointed President Oscar Prater, has reached out to the local community, large corporations and private individuals in search of money to help pull the historically Black college out of debt.
Since Prater took over shortly after probation by SACS was announced last December, the school has “increased fundraising at least $800,000 more than the prior year, and that was a significant step to reaching financial stability,” Prater said.
The school’s last audit from the 2003-04 fiscal year stated Talladega College was more than $1.5 million in debt when it came to net operating expenses.
Now under Prater’s leadership, the college has consolidated its debt, making it more manageable. And with donations coming in from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, Alabama Gas Co., the Talladega Superspeedway, Bellsouth, Coca-Cola and alumni, Talladega College is making headway for the first time in several years.
“I’m very pleased with the financial progress we’ve accomplished in the past year,” Prater said. “We’ve tried to assure the success for next year by making budget adjustments for this year, improving operating efficiency at the college and we’ve increased the ratio of students to employees.”
Enrollment is also up, making this year’s freshman class the largest “in many years,” Prater said. “And we credit that all to one person, Monroe Thornton.”
Coupled with donations, the increased revenue from enrollment is helping the college dig its way out of a financial hole that led to misuse of federal grant money. Before Prater’s term began and the school’s debt became unmanageable, officials were using money from restricted accounts for operating expenses.
Now, the president says, all that has stopped.
“Once you’re experienced, you know you can’t do things like that,” Prater said. “We have not had any excess drawbacks… It’s hardly a comparison. At that time, when I came on board, we had substantial deficit, substantial spending. We were able to cash off old debts with bond money and get our spending under control. The financial situation is much more stable now.”
Apart from reworking school operations and an aggressive fundraising campaign, the successes Talladega College has had in the past year can also be attributed to a number of efforts from alumni and friends of the college.
“I think we can attribute it to cooperation on the part of a lot of people,” Prater said. “Faculty, staff, alumni, a lot of people put their hands together to make the difference.”
Martha Hill, the Title III grant coordinator at TC, formed the 60-06 committee in an effort to raise $60,000 for the school by her 60th birthday in September 2006.
“I wanted to raise the interest among others in the community and involve them in the fundraising process, people beyond just corporations,” Hill said. “I’m involving the community as individuals on an everyday level that can give of themselves and maybe raise a few dollars that can add up in the long run.”
Hill’s efforts, along with school events that have involved community leaders, have sparked a new relationship between Talladega and Talladega College, which officials agree is vital to the school’s success.
But despite all the strides the school has made financially in the past year, Prater said, it’s “probably” still not enough to get the school off SACS probation when review comes again in December.
“We’ll probably stay on probation another year,” he said. “… The ratios we need to get to haven’t quite been reached, but they’re still a big difference than they were before.”
As far as morale on campus goes, Prater said, officials will be looking into an athletic program when the school is financially able to keep the students happy and returning.
“You just have to live within your means,” Prater said. “If you have a dollar, spend a dollar. You can’t keep spending a dollar and a dime; you’ll go in the hole.”
— Associated Press
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