ATLANTA – Clark Atlanta University cut about 100 workers Friday, with officials at the historically Black college blaming slipping enrollment as cash-strapped students sit out the spring semester.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Jiles said 70 faculty members and up to 40 staff learned from supervisors that Friday would be their last work day. No more cuts are expected.
It was the first round of such layoffs since 2003, according to school spokesman Larry Calhoun.
Jiles insisted the 4,200-student-plus college – the largest of the United Negro College Fund institutions – was not in any financial distress.
“There is absolutely no financial emergency, and the university is not in a cash marginal institution,” Jiles told the Associated Press on Friday.
On campus, students expressed confusion over the sudden decision but trust in the administration.
“To make this situation better, the people in control needed to prevent any financial loss in the long run of the institution,” said sophomore political science major Maurice Simpson, 19, of Maryland.
The decision to make cuts came as college administrators have been trying to align faculty numbers with dwindling student numbers, but the problem has been compounded by the nation’s economic recession, according to a university statement.
The school is still determining just how many students have been shed; administrators recognized a sharp downward trend late last year, Jiles said.
“We were getting some indication by mid-fall, and certainly by December, that we would have a number of students that would not be returning for the spring semester,” Jiles said, explaining that students expressed difficulty getting loans.
Such loans – as well as savings often stashed by mindful parents years before students arrive on campus – are the bread and butter of nearly all college students.
But they often have a special significance at the nation’s network of more than 100 historically Black schools. Sprinkled mostly across the South, these schools often draw from Blacks who cannot afford other schools.
Jiles estimated 98 percent of Clark Atlanta’s students get financial aid.
For them, even the tiniest cut to loans can hit hard, explained 2004 alumni Kevin Cottrell Jr.
“The only way I was able to go was through a scholarship and financial aid,” said Cottrell, of Atlanta. “Most of the time, we are first-generation college students.”
The layoffs came as a shock to Clark Atlanta’s tight-knit community, a network that includes many Black Atlanta professionals who still live and work near the school, which was created when Clark College merged with Atlanta University in 1988.
“It comes as a surprise, but I’m sure it’s gonna be a lot of impact,” said 2004 graduate Winfield Essel, of Norcross.
He recalled similar strain during his years at the school.
“They were almost about to go through the same situation as Morris Brown went through,” he said. “But they kind of recovered.”
Morris Brown, next door to Clark Atlanta, is still recovering after a 2002 embezzlement scheme rocked the campus.
Clark Atlanta faced its own $25 million deficit when it installed a new president, Carlton Brown, last year.
Clark Atlanta’s second president, Walter Broadnax, stepped down amid massive debt and controversial cuts to several programs.
Brown has made fundraising a priority. Friday, the school encouraged alumni to donate, particularly to a special fund created to support students.
But Essel said gifts would be slow coming from people holding on to cash in a tight economy.
“A lot of people probably are scared to send money,” he said, adding that some students may have been unhappy with decisions made by Clark Atlanta’s administration and are not rushing to help.
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