University President Used Corporate Strategy to Save HBCU Accreditation

A corporate presence on a university's board saved a school from losing its accreditation

BE_Algeania Warren Freeman Ph.D._Wilberforce Univ pres

Algeania Marie Warren Freeman Ph.D. took over as president of a struggling Wilberforce University just over a year ago (September 2014). At the time, the institution was facing millions of debt, had a long history of leadership problems, was experiencing a decline in enrollment and was about to lose its accreditation. But in late November, Freeman and her staff were successful in helping Wilberforce meet all five of the Core Components under which the University’s accreditation was evaluated and the HCBU was able to retain its status as an accredited school.

“A key component of my strategy was to build a more corporate presence on the university’s board,” said Dr. Freeman. “The corporate presence on the board is deliberate, a new way to run HBCUs — hopefully turning a faltering university around.” The university’s board includes a few exceptional leaders across a wide range of industries, including, Bishop McKinley Young, Bishop of the Third District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Mark Wilson, president and CEO of eVerifile; Adrienne Trimble, general manager, diversity and inclusion, Toyota and John Miller, CEO of Denny’s, Inc., and more.

[Related: $10 Million: Mellody Hobson and George Lucas Invest in Black and Latino Student Success]

During Freeman’s first year as president of Wilberforce University, she’s increased enrollment by 85% for Fall 2015 and increased donations in 2014/15. BlackEnterprise.com caught up with the ‘Transformative Change Agent’ to learn more about her plan and the results thus far.

BlackEnterprise.com: What attracted you to this position?
Freeman: Wilberforce is the oldest, private HBCU, and I felt it needed to be saved. It was a spiritual calling. I also like hopeless challenges to prove that with God all things are possible and never to count out God.

What qualities have helped you succeed thus far?
I have a deep abiding faith in God’s grace. I believe where God leads, he will always provide. I have 40 years of accreditation and educational leadership experience necessary for success. Other qualities of success include:

• Great strategic planning skills.
• Great organizational skills.
• Understanding the nuances of business and finance.
• Paying attention to details at all times.
• Great networking skills.
• Confidence, determination, and perseverance to know that I could do the job.

When you first came on board as president, what were some of your first steps to restore the university?
• Held lots of meet and greet sessions to determine who had the necessary information that I needed to know.
• Analyzed the Show-Cause Order and developed a map for responding to the accreditation mandates.
• Hired qualified staff as mandated by the accreditation agency.
• Reviewed and updated all policies and procedures.
• Renovated buildings and installed new technologies for an approximate cost of $5.6 million.
• Developed a strategic financial management plan that resulted in an increase in the fiscal fragility score that the accrediting agency uses to determine institutional viability.

A key part of your strategy was implementing a corporate presence on the university’s board. What are your intended outcomes?
A corporate board enables a university to operate in a more effective and efficient manner as corporations are managed. It allows the university to diversify the skill sets of the board members so that there will not be a myopic view for the board. It also opens doors to resources and partnerships. Corporate board members lend their expertise in such critical areas as fiscal management, strategic planning, and technology. They are highly involved in fundraising, honoring their give/get financial commitments, and serve as excellent role models for our students.

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