Clark Atlanta University changing its academics for future

Clark Atlanta University President Ronald Johnson celebrated his first 100 days of leading the historically black college last week.

Johnson, a former dean of Texas Southern University's business college, replaced Carlton Brown who had been Clark Atlanta's president for seven years.

On July 1, Johnson became the fourth president of the institution that claims such notable alumni as civil rights icon Ralph Abernathy, playwright Kenny Leon and U.S. Congressman Hank Johnson.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked with Johnson about his first 100 days of leadership, which he described as “hectic,” and his plans for the Clark Atlanta’s future.

Q: Part of your focus has been learning about what CAU does well and better marketing those successes. What does Clark Atlanta do well?

A: We do well with the way that higher education is formulated for the future. Our faculty has taken the giant step in reviewing the curriculum and refocusing it on a set of competencies they need to have for successful careers no matter what. By doing that, they are redefining the concept of what higher education means in the context of liberal arts and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) institutions. It’s tied to critical-thinking and reason, communication skills, things you need no matter what career field you go into. Layered on that are stackable credentials that can be earned on their way to becoming a subject matter expert.

Q: What will this look like for students? What impact will the new curriculum have on CAU’s retention and graduation rates?

A: CAU is hoping to be the first historically black college doing this type of competency-based education with the stackable credentials. The university’s core requirements have been reduced from 58 hours to 32 hours to free up hours for students to pursue the credentials in each discipline. We are working toward launching the new curriculum for incoming freshman in January 2016. Existing students will be able to earn the credentials as they are built into the programs.

We want to solve this problem the right way. Our primary goal is for student academic and career success. We are also screening and helping students with risk factors, such as problems forming balanced relationships, that would prevent students from succeeding. Our curriculum is being redesigned to support a laboratory of thinkers and doers.

Q: What are your other immediate goals?

A: Enrollment is currently 3,655. The goals is to reach 3,800 to 4,000 enrolled students in the next four to five years. With financing, an institution cannot live on tuition alone. Work is being done to better engage alumni and the corporate sector to raise funds. We are also working toward long-term contracts with the federal government instead of relying on grants, which typically include less funding.

Clark Atlanta owns multiple properties, some not currently being used and not producing revenue, and we’ve got to review those and see what can be done to provide cash flow and ease the burden on the student body.

There is no stated fundraising/capital campaign goal yet. By the middle of next summer we expect to have a fund development plan in place.

Responses have been condensed for space.

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