Paine College President Jerry Hardee writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week to make the case for the school’s survival. Battered by years of scandal, turnover, enrollment decline and accreditation woes, Dr. Hardee says that Paine’s tradition and mission are as relevant today as they have ever been.
Jerry L. Hardee is president of Paine College, a HBCU in Augusta. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission voted last year to strip the school’s accreditation over financial issues. Paine sued. Under a consent order, the school retains its SACS accreditation during the litigation, but is on probation.
“These institutions have educated hundreds of thousands of students over the last 150 years and have taught them to stand strong and gallant even in difficult circumstances,” Dr. Hardee wrote. “A HBCU experience is a special experience for those in attendance now and for those who preceded them! The camaraderie, the bond, the relationships, the friendships are unmatched. They are necessary. Paine is necessary.”
The idea of Paine is necessary for Augusta, but the school has a long way to travel in defining that necessity to students, donors, and accreditors to keep itself open. The good news is that the city of Augusta seems to be behind the idea of Paine, and is willing to endorse its survival as a tool for economic development in the city.
But when you actually research economic development in the city, you find that Paine is not an easy fit within its short and long term goals for job creation, workforce development, or civic expansion. In 2015-16, Paine graduated just over 80 students. The top three programs according to the degrees awarded to that graduating class were criminology, business administration, and broadcast journalism.
Those programs are strong areas in terms of the country’s professional growth, but they don’t easily appear well-matched with Augusta’s industrial strengths. Here’s a list of the largest non-manufacturing industries in the city.
Augusta is also among Georgia’s most affluent cities, which begs the question; how valuable is Paine in a city where many of the households can afford a wide pool of two and four-year college options?
Fortunately, Augusta has a significant part of its population which needs college access to keep up with the growing industries in the city.
If Paine will survive, it will be in partnership with Augusta brokering deals with the military and healthcare corporations to furnish training and credentialing programs in healthcare administration and nursing, professional services, and project management credentialing for textile and manufacturing employees seeking career advancement.
If the school does that, it will survive and students will flock to the campus for its low annual tuition costs. But if advocates and leaders at Paine continue to assume that sharing the school’s history is enough to coerce investment, then it will be buried by its own inability to play the numbers game.