Chugging Toward Recovery - Higher Education

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Chugging Toward Recovery

by Jamilah Evelyn

CSX Transportation is helping Edward Waters College get on track to a brighter future

Washington — Erecting fancy booths at college recruitment fairs is
a common and effective way for schools to boost their visibility among
prospective applicants. Promotional brochures sent to SAT and ACT test
takers are another tool typically used.

But who has ever heard of a school packing itself onto a train to
deliver snippets of college life to students across the country?

Edward Waters College chugged ahead earlier this month with
“Success Express” — part of its latest pitch to enroll 2,000 students
by the turn of the century. The train displays interactive exhibits
introducing students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors to
Edward Waters College and life in Jacksonville, Fla., where the small,
private school is located.

The unique marketing and recruitment technique originated from
discussions held between Jimmy Jenkins, president of Edward Waters, and
A. R. “Pete” Carpenter, chief executive of CSX Transportation Inc. The
Fortune 500 company generated more than $10.6 billion in operating
revenue last year.

“CSX Transportation is a rail company, amongst other things, and so
we came across the idea that we could perhaps use the train to also
deliver our message,” Jenkins said. “Out of it, the Success Express
evolved.”

Jenkins describes CSX’s charitable donation as “a leap of faith,”
and part of a larger rebuttal to skeptics who are waiting to see if the
college — which was at one point in accreditation trouble — will
crumble or bounce back on its feet.

The “Success Express” campaign drew the attention and backing of
national education leaders, many of whom were impressed by the
innovative idea.

“If that train travels up the east coast, there’s no telling how
many students will end up going there,” said Henry Ponder, president
and chief executive of the National Association for Equal Opportunity
in Higher Education.

The CSX ten-car, mobile college train did not make a showing at
Washington D.C.’s Union Station because of an accidental derailment in
Georgia. The conductor of that train was killed, but all others aboard
were unharmed and were flown to Washington for the festivities. The
train was repaired in time to arrive at Baltimore’s Camden Yards on
schedule.

Edward Waters officials estimate that a total of nearly 4,000
attended the creative recruitment events. Four-year scholarships were
giveaway in both locations and the train is scheduled to stop in eight
additional cities in coming months.

“Because of the amount of money invested in this particular
campaign, we wanted to get as much bang for the buck as we could,”
Jenkins said.

Aside from the train, CSX Transportation — the largest railroad
company in the eastern United States — put an additional $100,000 into
the venture to cover promotional expenses and scholarships. CSX is a

“CSX’s commitment is two-fold: We want to assist this historic
Jacksonville college and its students, and we want to demonstrate our
commitment to education by providing a special train that we believe
will carry hope and opportunity to minority young people,” said
Carpenter, whose company has a history of supporting education.

Jenkins said that the college is hoping to gain fifty to seventy-five students from the tour’s first two stops.

“We know that we won’t get them all in these two days,” he said.
“We hope we lay the foundation, however, [so] that as we follow-up on
those that will come out to see us, we will continue to cultivate from
this.”

College spokeswoman Von Alexander said that 400 of the students who
attended the Baltimore and Washington events signed up for more
information on Edward Waters. Since the whistle-stop tour began, the
college also has gotten countless calls from teachers and guidance
counselors.

The Road to Renewal

Edward Waters’s latest feat is remarkable, considering that just
three years ago the institution’s enrollment dwindled below 300
students — its lowest ever.

Since Jenkins’s arrival at the college almost two years ago, the
private, historically Black college with an open-door policy has more
than doubled its enrollment to 781 students. Jenkins attributes that to
a recent stream of good press on the college’s efforts to reposition
itself after nearly ten years of financial woes.

At the depths of its problems, the institution was more than $3
million in debt, more than $800,000 of which was owed to the faculty
and staff in the form of back salaries. The college also owed more than
$250,000 to the IRS and 700 vendors.

“You can imagine not meeting payroll and not being able to meet the
debts of other vendors,” Jenkins said. “There was a constant barrage of
news about the impact of that — liens against the college, things of
that nature. So the college suffered through quite a bit of that.”

The turnaround is a two-part recovery: first, for the college,
which has suffered from considerable financial affliction and unstable
leadership; and second, for Jenkins, who gave up the helm of North
Carolina’s Elizabeth City State University after a storm of protest
followed comments he directed at the university’s White professors.

Ponder said he thinks that both Jenkins and the college are on the right track.

“Jenkins has given great leadership since he’s been there and if
you get a president that somehow seems to push the right buttons,
things seem to move,” Ponder said.

A Gravy Train

Jenkins launched an aggressive corporate partnership campaign which
landed deals with several local and national companies that provided
Edward Waters with $5 million. The alumni also began to make
contributions, along with local churches, fraternities, and sororities.
Even the faculty pitched in, relinquishing $100,000 of their back pay.

The infusion of cash enabled school officials to renovate one of
the campus dormitories and give the entire campus a $2 million
face-lift.

“We’ve been able to pay off the $800,000 debt to the faculty. We’ve
been able to pay off the IRS,” he said. “Today the school that was over
$3 million dollars in debt when we came nineteen months ago is now
around $800,000 in debt,” Jenkins said.

This fall, 300 new students enrolled at the college, which competes
locally with the University of North Florida, Jacksonville University,
and Florida Community College at Jacksonville. Jenkins said he hopes to
pick up 600 to 700 students by the fall of 1999.

If the college is able to enroll another class that size the following fall, enrollment will be right where he wants it.

“We don’t want to just get big,” said Jenkins, who sees Edward
Waters as a role model among historically Black colleges. “We want to
attain a critical mass and then offer the kind of educational
opportunities that truly propel us into being one of the best private
colleges in America.”

With programs like the “Success Express,” Jenkins said he thinks the college is on the right track.

“There are people who now know of Edward Waters College who never heard of us before.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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