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Morehouse College announces layoffs and furlough plan

Students walk to class past the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in this AJC file photo. JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM
Students walk to class past the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in this AJC file photo. JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM

Morehouse College announced Monday it will lay off 13 full-time employees, enact pay cuts for nearly 200 employees and institute two-month furloughs as part of a plan to fill a budget gap caused in large part by the coronavirus pandemic.

The changes are scheduled to take effect June 1, the college’s president, David A. Thomas, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview Monday afternoon. The cost-cutting measures are expected to save the private, historically black college about $3.4 million, said Thomas, who has volunteered to take a 25% pay cut.

The pandemic is impacting the college in several ways.

Morehouse, located about a mile west of Mercedes-Benz Stadium near downtown Atlanta, agreed to give pro-rated refunds to students after closing the campus in mid-March. The college, which has about 2,200 students, is anticipating an enrollment decline of about 525 students for the fall semester, which Thomas said may be conducted online.

"These initial decisions are the most difficult that I have faced in my more than 30 years in higher education. However, it is my role and responsibility to uphold the College's mission to produce future generations of leaders who can lift up their communities and change the world," Thomas said in a message to faculty and others.

Dr. David A. Thomas, the 12th President of Morehouse College. 
Dr. David A. Thomas, the 12th President of Morehouse College. 

Other Georgia schools are facing similar financial challenges.

The University System of Georgia, which receives a significant portion of its funding through state funds, must submit a budget cutting plan of as much as 14% to state officials by Wednesday. The 330,000-student system, which includes the state's largest public universities, has already announced it will not raise tuition this fall and anticipates losing $350 million through the summer. Emory University, the state's largest private institution, last month announced a hiring freeze and other cost-cutting measures.

Morehouse, though, was facing financial challenges before the pandemic. The college announced plans in September to furlough employees to fill a $5 million budget gap, but dropped the plan a month later, days before faculty planned a walkout.

The budget gap was created by unpaid tuition and fees from about 500 students, nearly one-quarter of its enrollment. Thomas said Monday he’s discussed the furlough plan with college trustees and talked about Morehouse’s financial challenges with faculty in recent town hall meetings.

> MORE: Q & A with Morehouse President David A. Thomas after a year on the job

Morehouse, the nation's only college dedicated exclusively to the education of African American men, has received some major donations, but many of those have gone to students and cannot be used for general operations and salaries. Last year, billionaire technology investor Robert F. Smith agreed to pay off the student debt for Morehouse's entire graduating class of 2019. Oprah Winfrey last year donated $13 million to a Morehouse scholarship program.

Thomas said Morehouse is exploring several revenue generating ideas, such as programs for adult learners who didn’t complete their college degrees, public-private partnerships to better utilize its properties and a coding bootcamp. Thomas said the college must look at this as an opportunity to develop long-term strategies to be financially strong.

“We really see this as a moment to enhance and innovate on the Morehouse legacy,” Thomas told the AJC. “Whenever you announce cuts there’s always a depressive quality to it, but I would dare say that we’re quite optimistic about the future here at Morehouse.”

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