Oglethorpe University’s leader plans departure next year

Larry Schall (in yellow) has taken hands-on approach as president of Oglethorpe University. Applications to the small liberal arts college in Brookhaven have quadrupled since he's taken over in 2005.

Larry Schall (in yellow) has taken hands-on approach as president of Oglethorpe University. Applications to the small liberal arts college in Brookhaven have quadrupled since he's taken over in 2005.

Lawrence “Larry” Schall initially planned to be Oglethorpe University’s president for 10 years, but he had some unfinished tasks.

On his to-do list is a program starting this fall that will lower Oglethorpe's tuition to match the tuition of any flagship school in the nation for incoming students meeting academic qualifications.

Schall announced Tuesday he’ll leave the private, liberal arts school in north DeKalb County in June 2020, concluding a 15-year run that’s seen him deviate from state policies on some contentious higher education issues in Georgia.

Oglethorpe President Lawrence Schall is a former trial attorney.

Credit: Maureen Downey

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Credit: Maureen Downey

In addition to the tuition match effort, titled Flagship 50, Schall founded College Presidents for Gun Safety following the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. The presidents wanted lawmakers, among other things, to oppose legislation allowing guns in classrooms. Georgia lawmakers passed a bill in 2017 allowing licensed gun owners to carry firearms on some parts of public college campuses.

>> RELATED | Group to give Oglethorpe University Dreamers scholarships

Oglethorpe, with Schall’s support, earlier this year became the first Georgia institution to offer scholarships to Dreamers, the name given to young immigrants who were illegally brought to the country as children. Georgia has rules prohibiting those students from studying at some top state universities.

As Susanna Baxter, president of the Georgia Independent College Association, said Tuesday, Schall — who briefly worked as an Uber driver to gather insight into jobs performed by regular people — is "different."

Oglethorpe president Lawrence Schall (right) drove Uber to experience another profession. Here, he completes the ride with passenger Mikael Pierre, a truck driver heading to a long haul. Fulton County will offer Uber rides to senior citizens. (BILL TORPY BTORPY@AJC.COM / AJC File Photo)

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“He cares deeply for his students and that translates to the world they live in or are going to live in,” she said.

Schall said leaving those students will be the most difficult part of leaving Oglethorpe. He’s worried about similar small, private colleges. Moody’s financial services company reported last year that 25% of private American colleges ran budget deficits in 2017. Oglethorpe has about 1,300 students.

“Atlanta needs places like Oglethorpe to be healthy so it’s hard to walk away,” Schall said in a telephone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

>> RELATED | Oglethorpe's student government helps diversify art collection

Schall said when he arrived at Oglethorpe in 2005, the school had an annual budget deficit of about $3 million. The school was in danger of losing its accreditation in 2008. Oglethorpe cut spending by about $2.2 million by not filling open positions and outsourcing several services, the AJC reported in 2009.

Oglethorpe now has an annual surplus of about $3 million, said Schall. Its enrollment increased by 50% under Schall’s tenure and the school has raised $130 million since he took office, officials said. The school has added more classrooms, dorms and five study-abroad programs.

Schall said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do after he leaves Oglethorpe but plans to stay in Atlanta.

“It’s a good time to go,” Schall said. “We’ve done very well and it’s time to go on to do something else fun.”

The university’s board of trustees will create a presidential search committee comprised of trustees, faculty, staff and students to identify a successor prior to Schall’s departure.