Sunday, February 20, 2000

Central State touts gains since crisis

University's top goal: get more students

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In John Garland's view, it's like a car's side-view mirror that warns, “Objects are closer than they appear.” Central State University is the victim of bad publicity about a mismanagement scandal that wasn't as bad as it appeared, he says.

        It's a message Mr. Garland — Central State's president since 1997 — has tried to hammer home in the visits he started last year to school superintendents, principals and guidance counselors to raise flagging enrollment.

        Last week, he took that message to about 25 Greater Cincinnati educators, who turned out at a Blue Ash hotel Wednesday to hear about gains the embattled school has made since state lawmakers threatened to close it after a 1996 financial scandal. A quarter of Central State's students come from Greater Cincinnati.

        “Any concerns I may have had in the back of my mind may have been allayed today,” said Linda Grayman, a guidance counselor at Walnut Hills High School, where 95 percent of graduates go on to college.

        Rosalyn B. Fuller, lead counselor for Cincinnati Public Schools, agreed. “I like the fact that they are becoming more visible and more interconnected with the urban districts.”

        Central State administrators have held breakfast meetings during the past year in each of Ohio's cities, as well as in Detroit and Chicago, to help erase doubts about their school's management.

        Enrollment plummeted to fewer than 937 students at Central State, Ohio's only public historically black university, in 1998 after reports of financial scandal and dilapidated campus buildings.

        In 1996, state investigators found nearly 700 fire and building code violations in campus buildings. They immediately ordered Central State's dorms closed.

        Central State's trustees and top administrators either resigned or were fired, and a state-appointed crisis management team took over for a year.

        Mr. Garland, an attorney and 1971 Central State graduate, became president in September 1997. Enrollment jumped 10 percent this fall. But with 1,050 students, Central State still is far below the 2,600 students it had in 1996. Mr. Garland hopes to eventually raise enrollment to 3,500.

        “Getting students is our first three priorities,” spokesman Jim Cleveland quipped.

        The strategy is simple: Tout the school's strides, such as renovated dorms and classroom buildings, and expanded scholarship opportunities.

        Officials also hope to attract more students by developing the education school into a nationally recognized institution specializing in training teachers for urban schools.

        “Our tack is telling the truth,” Mr. Garland said. “Central State was literally flooded with adverse publicity, so we address it directly.”

        It is recognized for having a nationally known water-resources management program. Other programs include education, chemistry, manufacturing, engineering and music.


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