Morehouse College President John S. Wilson has been credited with reviving and renewing the brand of the prestigious HBCU. But it has not been an easy journey from being a White House advisor to President Barack Obama to leading the nation’s premier college of choice for young Black men.
Wilson has had to deal with funding issues, infrastructure repair, labor disputes and a NCAA violation. Despite these problems, he has been able to put Morehouse College on a more stable footing. One of his crowning accomplishments was landing President Obama as a commencement speaker and awarding him an honorary degree.
Now, it has been announced that the Morehouse Board of Trustees is offering Wilson a one-year extension on his five-year contract. Morehouse Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Davidson wrote in a released letter, “The Board is appreciative of the progress that President Wilson has made on several strategic priorities since coming to Morehouse College in 2013…That said, we recognize that there is still more to be done and want to continue working with President Wilson to accomplish specific objectives. As we move forward, we are committed to the continued growth and success of Morehouse College under the leadership of President Wilson. Our focus will remain on ensuring the bright future of our institution. We trust that we can expect ongoing support from our students, faculty and staff, alumni, and supporters.”
This announcement has caused alarm from many Morehouse men who have taken to Facebook to express their concerns. One post read, “A one-Year extension is VERY cautionary, without being completely punitive. It’s a half-step away from ‘No Confidence.'”
This was a sentiment that was also echoed by others in a thread. Some fear that it means Morehouse may soon be facing a transitional period in a search for another president at a critical time for the college. Some alumni have reported extreme dissatisfaction with the way Wilson has engaged the community.
One Facebook post stated, “He has improved the administration but has failed to reach the alumni. Alumni giving is down significantly. We, as the alumni association, have tried to reach out to him and strengthen the bond but we have been met with resistance on all levels.”
Also of concern for alumni is the downgrade of Morehouse College’s Moody rating to Baa3, citing the school;s $40 million debt in May 2014.
Moody’s investor services listed the following challenges facing the school:
*The college has very thin liquidity given its operating performance, with 110 monthly day’s cash to cover operating expenses. Liquidity has remained low due to extraordinary endowment draws to fund operations and debt service.
*Operating challenges will persist as the college’s new management team addresses structural operating deficits. Thin cash flow of just 2.2% provided 0.41 times debt service coverage in FY 2013.
*High dependence on funding from the federal government, including financial aid increases MHC’s vulnerability to changes in financial aid funding requirements and other policy shifts, which has adversely impacted enrollment in recent years.
*Despite the need for strong financial controls and consistent leadership given enrollment pressures and weak operations, key leadership roles have just recently been filled with permanent staff.
*Declining enrollment, low net tuition per student of just $13,288 and consistent deterioration in yield on admitted students, highlights an extremely competitive and narrow student market.
Unfortunately, these are challenges also facing other HBCUs across the country. Being president of a proud HBCU like Morehouse is a challenge and so far Dr. Wilson is taking on the tough job.