Central State University’s new president Cynthia Jackson-Hammond has set “compelling priorities” for the historically black institution, but says she realizes the changes will come gradually.
“Central State University is just like a mega yacht, and you don’t turn yachts on the point of a dime. But you put into process those steps that help make sure the yacht turns evenly,” said Jackson-Hammond, who was previously lead education consultant for H & H Educational Consultants and has prior experience as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Coppin State University in Baltimore.
Jackson-Hammond, who took office in July to become the first female president in the university’s 125 years, has identified goals for Central State to address during the coming year. They include ensuring every student has quality collegiate and academic experiences, the university recruits students who are academically and financially prepared for college, the school’s operations are effective and efficient, and more students graduate and graduate in less time.
The new president has already established tenets of service, protocol and civility as ways Central State students will stand out.
Students have embraced those values in their daily lives, on T-shirts and in their classrooms and dorms, and “made it reality, rather than words,” Jackson-Hammond said.
“They’re truly attributes that we need to take in our daily lives,” said senior Teeya Skitter, who represents the university in the CSU Man and CSU Woman campaign.
“It’s something that we as students can take beyond Central State. These are not values that we just have in-house. That’s how people will know the brand of Central State University,” said senior Christopher Aarone, a Dayton native. “The atmosphere on campus is different and how we look at each other, not only on campus but representing campus. It’s improved. It’s developed. It’s something to take more pride in.”
Central State is unique in Ohio for its student body. The university enrolls the highest rate of students from Ohio’s urban, high-poverty high schools of any public institution in the state. Many students are the first in their family to go to college, and 93 percent qualify for the federal Pell Grant, financial aid given to low-income students.
The university does face challenges. This fall, enrollment dropped by 14 percent to 2,152 students. It means Central State will face a dip in financial support from Ohio and less income from tuition than it budgeted.
The university has been working with the Ohio Board of Regents on a plan to strengthen its future, and its most recent report outlines goals to diversify the student body by recruiting “rising achievers” who are academically prepared for college. Central State will also use scaled admission criteria in the admissions process, taking into account both GPA and performance on the ACT.
Central State aims to increase its graduation and retention rates by 5 percent in each of the next three years. The university’s graduation rate is now 19 percent — midrange for historically black universities — and its retention rate is 46 percent.
Jackson-Hammond said Central State will strengthen relationships with community colleges to bring in more transfer students.
“The transition between high school and college is a challenging one for the best academically prepared student because it’s not just about academics,” she said. “We are looking for a student who is college ready not only to handle the academic, but the social transition, as well.”
The university also is awaiting federal approval to become a land grant institution, which would open the door to more federal grant money. Jackson-Hammond also said she hopes to establish relationships bringing businesses close to campus and create a new partnership with the YMCA. Central State currently has a $144 million economic impact on the area, according to a study by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.
Jackson-Hammond is developing relationships with other university presidents to benefit Ohio.
“We are all trying to work to give every Ohio citizen an opportunity for a college education and a college education is going help drive the economy for the state. So collectively, we see ourselves as all partners in driving the economic development for the state,” she said.
But mostly, Jackson-Hammond said she wants the community to come to campus and see the changes that have already been made.
“This is a different campus, a different environment, a different energy. And you can only feel that by visiting campus,” she said.
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