by: Greg Suskin Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A dramatic drop in enrollment has forced Johnson C. Smith University to swing the budget ax, and students are already feeling the impact.
The college needs to cut $3 million from its budget this year.
On Wednesday, 21 people were told that they would be let go immediately. Those laid off were not instructors, but staff members, many who'd been a part of Johnson C. Smith for years.
There are several factors that have hurt enrollment, but the university said the main issue is a change in the requirements for students who apply for Parent Plus loans administered by the Department of Education.
Johnson C. Smith President Ronald Carter said those loans are now harder to qualify for.
There are just under 1,400 students at the university and last year there were 1,800.
Roughly 300 students could not qualify for college loans. The university dug into reserves to help assist some of the families, but more than 100 ended up not enrolling. Pell Grants also do not provide as much financial assistance as they once did.
Carter said the so-called student drought is having a huge impact, not only at Johnson C. Smith, but across the country.
"We are having to go back, all institutions, to re-think the business plan, in order to move forward," he said.
Students are saddened to see mentors and friends go.
"It hurts my feelings to see some of the best staff people that have been here over 15 years, leave from the place they actually call home," said junior Miles Fairly.
Sophomore Juan Campillo just lost an adviser he depended on.
"She told me she's being laid off today. Today's her last day. I feel like we kind of need her," he said.
Carter said the university has a 15-point plan to save the $3 million this year. Some options include outsourcing police protection, health services and more. However, the university has not taken that step yet, and could not provide numbers on how much money those steps could save.
Johnson C. Smith has not announced any additional cuts or layoffs for next year.
Officials are most worried that needy students will be hurt the most, unless additional money can be found.
Carter said he hopes to raise $10 million for tuition assistance during a major fundraising campaign.
A $2.5 million Duke endowment has helped, but it's not enough to address the bigger issue. Carter said the student loan issue is not only critical for university, but for other smaller schools.
"In the light of what's going on across the board in higher education, this is a big one," he said.
Junior Shakya Taylor said it's hard to see what's going on around campus, because it's always felt like home to her.
"They really are like our family when we're away from home," she said.
Carter said he is not taking a pay cut himself, and remains committed to maintaining competitive pay for faculty and staff.