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The State of HBCUs: Spelman College

By Titus Falodun Staff Writer | 9/27/2013, 6 a.m.
Boasting alumnae that are among the nation’s biggest movers and shakers, Spelman College’s future is far from dim.

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Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

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 two focuses on Spelman College.

Friendship Baptist Church was the founding base for Spelman College, some 132 years ago, when two teachers, Harriet E. Giles and Sophia B. Packard, embarked on finding a home for their institution of higher learning. With the support of then Friendship Baptist pastor Frank Quarles, Spelman began changing the lives of women.

Following the $19. 5 million sale of Friendship Baptist last weekend, as part of the new Atlanta Falcon’s stadium deal, Spelman joins Atlanta in bidding farewell to hallowed grounds.

Despite the physical loss of its foundation, Spelman continues to survive and thrive, especially under the leadership of its ninth president Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph. D.

“I think Tatum is dynamic,” HBCU Digest founding editor Jarrett Carter, Sr. told The Atlanta Voice. “And that’s why Spelman continues to have this great tradition. She reaches out to folks; she has connections.”

Recently, Spelman was crowned HBCU of the Year at the third annual HBCU Awards. It was also listed as the no. 1 HBCU by U.S. News & World Report, as well as named by Forbes magazine as one of the ten best women’s colleges in the nation.

These accolades do not happen overnight, nor do they happen by just maintaining tradition.

“She makes bold moves, like canceling the athletic program,” Jarrett continued. “That’s bold! That got them national attention. That’s why they’re the HBCU of the Year.”

Last year, in a brazen move that had many scratching their heads, Spelman became only the second school (along with New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn) in the last decade to leave the N.C.A.A.

With a total of just 80 student-athletes in seven sports, Spelman had an athletic budget of nearly $900,000 (during the 2012-13 academic year). That was less than one percent of Spelman’s total operating cost.

Simply, the institution decided it was just not worth it.

Instead, Spelman officials worked to transfer over that money into a school-wide health and fitness initiative. The program provides for physical activities, which include sponsored walks, Zumba, kickboxing, and more.

Spelman has chosen to rethink health and fitness, which has other schools reconsidering their N.C.A.A. ties as well.

Tatum has helped pave the way for Spelman to persevere with vigor, when a significant amount of HBCUs are just getting by, during recent economic strains.

“Our approach has not really changed during the economic downturn,” Tatum told The Atlanta Voice via email correspondence. “Throughout my presidency, which began in 2002, we have been very proactive in reaching out to our alumnae community to keep them informed, involved and invested in the college.”

Tatum listed the college’s development of a weekly online newsletter, utilizing various social media tools, and hosting alumnae gatherings around the country, help to ensure Spelman’s “alumnae understand how important their annual support is to the health of the college and the wellbeing of [its] current students.”