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The State of HBCUs: Clark Atlanta University

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 9/20/2013, 2:43 p.m.
In the L.S. Epps Gymnasium, overflowing with students, faculty and scholars, Carlton E. Brown, Ph. D., Clark Atlanta University’s president ...
Carlton E. Brown, Ph. D. enters his 5th year as Clark Atlanta University’s president. His address Tuesday, September 17 focused on the challenges ahead for the school. Photo by Curtis McDowell.

Editor’s Note: As college costs continue to rise and enrollment continues to drop at many small private liberal arts institutions of higher learning across the country, The Atlanta Voice will be running a three-part series examining the state of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Atlanta. Part one focuses on Clark Atlanta University.

In the L.S. Epps Gymnasium, overflowing with students, faculty and scholars, Carlton E. Brown, Ph. D., Clark Atlanta University’s president delivered an eye-opening speech at the school’s opening convocation held Tuesday morning, September 17.

Brown’s urgent, yet inspiring message, entitled “Pursuing New Frontiers in The Cauldron of Change,” addressed the challenges for Clark Atlanta in its 25th year of existence, following the consolidation of Clark College (founded in 1869) and Atlanta University (founded in 1865).

“It is time for us to take our rightful place as a lead innovator in higher education,” Brown said.

Recently, Clark Atlanta, along with 15 other HBCUs, made Forbes' list of 650 top American colleges, ranking no. 625. Clark Atlanta also qualified for the installation of two national honor societies, Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi. Phi Kappa Phi is the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective all-discipline honor society, and the university is the first private HBCU to be granted a chapter.

Brown further praised the school’s willingness to create a radically new format of teaching, while revamping financial parameters. But it was his statement on the four percent giveback rate per year of alumni that put into perspective Clark Atlanta’s financial struggles.

“If we do not address this issue, we must be prepared to die,” Brown told The Atlanta Voice.

Despite HBCUs like Clark Atlanta receiving direct federal funding to cover their basic operating costs (established in the Higher Education Act of 1965), their propensity to attract more first generation African-American students than most institutions forces them to deal with a different kind of student enrolling and graduating.

The total amount of federal grants decreased from more than $742 million in 2010 to $680 million in 2012, according to Department of Education records. These documents also show that federal grants and research awards to HBCUs for development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics fell from $661 million in 2010 to $573 million in 2011.

Thus, it becomes imperative for Clark Atlanta to be able to draw from internal resources (i.e. alumni) in order to help augment its ability to give aid to its prospective and currently enrolled students.

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Sources are CAU and National Center of Educational Statistics.

But the school’s and its alumni’s budgets are tight due to economic woes, which makes every level of the college experience further difficult, from enrollment to graduation.

“We will take on that challenge as alumni, in order to make sure that we increase our giving back at the institution,” Clark Atlanta University Alumni Association president Devin White said.

“I think communication is one of the goals when dealing with your alumni constituency. For instance, it should not always be about money—just giving them updates on the school as a whole is worthwhile.”