Shaw president speaks out about economy

March 26, 2009 6:45:16 AM PDT
Small private colleges and some historically black colleges and universities are struggling with the economy.Tough questions have surfaced about Shaw University. The school has had to cut staff pay and suspend retirement benefits for employees.

On Wednesday, the president of Shaw University of six years spoke with Eyewitness News about the challenges and the future ahead.

"Very challenging, very challenging, but here's the story of Shaw," President Clarence Newsome said. "It was born in struggle."

Newsome says of 34 small private liberal arts colleges in North Carolina, Shaw's yearly price tag of almost $19,000 a year is actually the lowest.

"You've got to make sure your students are capable of being able to pay their bills in an economy like this," he said. "And that's where we are challenged right now."

Shaw has laid off an undisclosed number of employees, suspended retirement benefits and cut employee pay. Newsome says he shares the pain, cutting his own pay by 20 percent.

He says he is positioning the South's first historically black college for the future, but students offer mixed reactions.

"Where is my money going?" a Shaw University student asked. "What is being done? Where is it going?"

Recent reports have questioned Shaw's debt load of about $20 million.

"What I'm going to say is it's all in balance," Newsome said. "Every institution of higher learning is in debt. This is how you do business. We're meeting our obligations."

And like many small colleges, the endowment is also small. While Duke University's endowment hovers around $5 billion, Shaw's is closer $20 million.

"We've not been living off our endowment," Newsome said. "We've just been building our endowment."

Newsome says they will soon begin a bold campaign to secure Shaw's financial future and Shaw University will survive and thrive.

Shaw officials expect their enrollment of $2,600 to hold stable next year. They say current applications are up 25 percent.


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