WTOC Investigates: Savannah State University focused on campus safety, student retention ahead of fall semester

WTOC Investigates: Savannah State University focused on campus safety, student retention ahead of fall semester

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) -Savannah State University kicked off the new semester Monday with a new person in charge. Interim President Kimberly Ballard-Washington will stay on campus until a permanent leader is hired, most likely by next year.

The university had the biggest enrollment drop by percentage in the entire system from Spring 2018 to Spring of 2019. Ballard-Washington says university leaders need to do a better job of sharing what the school has to offer to boost enrollment.

“[We need to impress] upon faculty that when they’re doing things special, make sure that our communications team is aware so that they can properly share the information,” said Ballard-Washington.

With class back in session, university leaders have high hopes for a successful school year. One of those people is Kimberly Ballard-Washington. She started work last month, making this the third school she’s served as interim President; she’s made stops at Albany State and Fort Valley State in the past, the university system’s other two historically black colleges.

The issue of public safety is something she plans to address. Ballard-Washington is asking everyone to wear ID badges when they’re on campus. Guests will also have to go through a checkpoint to get on campus.

“We want to know who our students are, who the staff and faculty, so I want everyone to wear their IDs as we move around campus so if there’s someone that looks like they may not belong here, we’ll be able to look," said Ballard-Washington. “Yes, we are an open campus. We’re a public campus, but due to some of the issues that have occurred previously, we see that we need to do things a little differently."

Another big issue facing the university is retention rates. The retention rate dropped to a 20-year low at 58 percent in 2016. That’s the most recent data. The enrollment also took a big hit in the last semester, down 12 percent or about 500 students from the Spring of 2018 to 2019.

“When students are making their decisions as to where to attend college, they need to know what we have here, and we need to get them on campus to visit,” said Ballard-Washington. “We need to show them our beautiful campus, show them our well-prepared, well-educated faculty and what they can learn here on our campus.”

The interim president says faculty and staff members need to do a better job marketing the university and what it has to offer. Another big emphasis this year is getting freshmen involved with their majors early on. System leaders think that will help boost graduation and retention numbers.

“You give them a plan, and then they’ll know what they need to do to get that to graduation.”

The goal is to have a full-time president some time next year. Ballard Washington will stay on campus at least through March. She does plan to host some meet-and-greets and town halls in the near future.

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