Alumni ask Mississippi university to respond to issues contributing to falling enrollment, employee resignations
Published 6:03 am Monday, February 21, 2022
By Molly Minta
A report by a group of Alcorn State University alumni alleges widespread issues contributed to falling enrollment and dozens of employee resignations in the last year at the nation’s oldest historically Black land grant university.
Alcornites for Change is now calling on the president, Felecia Nave, and her administration to address their concerns at next month’s mid-winter conference, an annual gathering of national alumni chapters, in Atlanta, Ga.
The report is based on records requests and a series of workshops held by Alcornites for Change to investigate the “current student conditions” and was presented to members during a Zoom meeting last week.
“It’s time to separate the drama from reality,” April Gilmore, a 2004 graduate, said during the meeting. “I went from not caring to angry in a matter of months. We need to invest in ourselves, we need to be heard. We want the leadership to respond to us.”
The 64-page report covered nine areas of concern, including that fall freshman enrollment has dropped by half over the last five years, from 1,286 students in fall 2017 to 641 students in fall 2021. It also included a survey of 252 alumni which found almost 80% were dissatisfied with the current administration’s “willingness to listen to or address” their concerns.
In an email to Mississippi Today, Maxine Greenleaf, Alcorn’s spokesperson, did not address the report specifically but wrote “Alcorn State University has succeeded against great odds for 150 years, and it’s because we work together. We will continue to work together with stakeholders to advance the mission of Alcorn.”
Alcornites for Change began meeting in October 2021 after news broke that Alcorn State’s football team had to cancel training due to a lack of athletic trainers. In the report, the group describes itself as “born out of a genuine concern for current student conditions at Alcorn, as well as other data points that appear to threaten the sustainability of Alcorn State University.”
The group has said in meetings that its goal is not to see Nave fired — which some students called for in a protest on the campus green last fall — but to “be a conduit of improvement” for Alcorn State.
During the meeting last Tuesday, some alumni became emotional discussing pictures that Alcornites for Change had received of athletic facilities on campus. The pictures, which the report says were taken in January 2022, show exam tables with worn padding, broken cabinets in the locker rooms, and a swimming pool which the report says “has not been completely drained and has standing water which is now black from mold.”
At least two SWAC basketball coaches, according to the report, “wouldn’t allow their teams to shower at Alcorn due to deplorable locker room facilities.”
“Tonight I’m just mad, I’m angry,” said Janiero Smith, a 2001 graduate. “I’m angry at Alcorn because I know that we can do better. It’s unacceptable. I’m angry because tomorrow I know there are going to be people more concerned about their internet profile than … about our student athletes. I’m also angry at myself. I buy tickets, I buy parking passes, I travel to games. And you think it’s enough. Until you really understand what the cost of your entertainment is.”
The ailing infrastructure is not unique to the athletic department, the report said. Alcornites for Change also received photos of mold and mildew in dormitories and crumbling ceiling tiles in the J.D. Boyd Library, as well as a video of water dripping from a light in the math and science building. The photos and video were taken in the last year, according to the report.
Other findings in the report include:
Sixty-nine administrators, faculty and staff resigned or retired from Alcorn between May 2021 and October 2021. “As a result, remaining staff has had to occupy several full-time roles in limited capacity,” the report said.
Budgets for 14 academic departments decreased from fiscal year 2021 to fiscal year 2022 while the five major deans’ offices saw budget increases. Funding for Alcorn’s bachelor of science in nursing program was cut in half during the same time period.
Alcorn State contracted with a consulting firm to write a strategic plan for the university. Administration has yet to release the strategic plan, which was scheduled to be published by April 2021.
Alcorn State was the only public HBCU in Mississippi to lose students from fall 2020 to fall 2021, according to the report. In fall 2021, High School Day, when thousands of students typically visit Alcorn’s campus, saw just 400 students.
For many of the “perceived challenges” identified in the report, Alcornites for Change listed potential solutions the school could implement, such as waiving ACT scores to increase enrollment, partnering with local community colleges to offer key courses, and creating a listserv of alumni who can offer jobs and internships to graduating students.
“We have offered 98 solutions, and we’d like to offer more,” said Jonas Crenshaw, one of the main organizers of Alcornites for Change. “We just want to be heard. We want to roll up our sleeves, we want to do this work that will lead Alcorn into the next 150 years.”
This story is reprinted with permission by Mississippi Today.