As its 10th President, I am honored to serve at the helm of historic Voorhees University, the first HBCU founded by an African American woman, Elizabeth Evelyn Wright. I deem it a privilege and blessing to serve and propel Voorhees University to its next level of greatness, impact, and excellence. I am delighted to share the vision for advancing the institution through the Strategic Plan 2022-2027: The Next Level of Excellence at Voorhees University.
In celebration of 125 years of the tradition of academic excellence and service, the strategic plan process provides a roadmap to further advance avenues for transformation, strengthened resources, continued success, enhanced innovation, and increased global impact. The plan illuminates cutting-edge development for teaching, learning, and research, for creativity and diversity, and for effective outreach, engagement, and resource stewardship. Ultimately, the strategic plan provides heightened direction for effective leadership, exponential growth, and enhanced academic distinction at Voorhees University.
The University Executive Cabinet, Senior Leadership, and institutional constituents are keenly aware of the critical need to assess the strategic plan and approach it from the perspective of being dynamic and flexible, accompanied by resilient fiscal stability and effective resource management. The University’s positionality of the strategic planning process focuses on: reviewing the institutional mission, formulating goals, objectives, and action steps, as well as, developing a plan for monitoring implementation, tracking progress, revising the plan as needed, and ensuring that all standards required by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) are considered in the process. The strategic plan is anchored in the philosophy and directly parallels the critical focus of the University’s mission as such:
Voorhees University is a private historically black liberal arts institution affiliated with the Episcopal church, whose mission is to produce highly qualified graduates who coalesce intellect and faith in pursuit of life-long learning, healthy living, the betterment of society, and an abiding faith in God.
Further, the strategic planning process is developed with the keen understanding of the University’s accreditation status and processes in mind. Recently, the University completed the decennial review by SACSCOC. The University is exceedingly proud of SACSCOC’s judgement to reaffirm the institution’s accreditation for ten years through 2032. In 2021, the University sought and was granted approval by SACSCOC for change from Level Il — Authorization to offer Baccalaureate degree to Level Ill — Authorization to offer Master’s degrees. Thus, the approval permitted Voorhees University to offer its first master’s degree during the history of the institution. The strategic plan includes development of additional Master’s degree programs and submission of authorization to Level IV – Authorization to offer Doctorate degrees ensuring development of relevant, high demand academic programs that uplift the ambition our of students and increase their social mobility.
Kent John Chabotar, president emeritus of Guilford College and a college finance expert, has admonished that colleges with 1,000 or fewer students, in rural areas, without large endowments, and without market niches, are on the path to closure. Certainly, I agree with President Chabotar and offer that in addition to expanding and stabilizing enrollment, Voorhees University must seek diverse funding opportunities, including increased external grant funding and foundation support, optimized federal contracts, cultivation of private donors, and enhanced Alumni and Board giving and support. As such, the strategic plan address enrollment increase and right-sizing the University as an institutional priority. The comprehensive Enrollment Management strategic plan has begun to assess issues of efficiency and effectiveness related to recruitment, enrollment, retention, and customer service. The four-pronged approach serves as the initial attempt to mitigate issues and optimize conditions for successful enrollment. The ultimate goal is to realize maximized enrollment, increased retention, enhanced student satisfaction, and improved graduation rates.
As Voorhees University develops strategies to increase enrollment, identifying strategies for varied resource development is equally imperative. The strategic plan advances the essential journey of aggressively expanding external grant funding, leading to foundation support. External funding intersects with a larger vision for systemic change in fundraising strategies and trajectory that will significantly increase the awareness of the University as a national leader and as a high-performing, academically and research-sound institution. More specifically, external funding will greatly assist Voorhees University in establishing broad, impactful, transformational educational opportunities for first- and second-year learners, learners in transition, online learners, adult learners, and international learners.
Inspired by The Most Reverend Michael Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate and the first African American Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the strategic plan addresses the critical development of strengthening beloved community. The Becoming Beloved Community Initiative at Voorhees University includes the following major platforms: (1) implementation of the Institutes for Social and Environmental Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion, (2) establishment of the Center for Women’s Advancement and Empowerment, (3) launch of the Rural Community Development Institute, (3) enhanced support and partnership with local and surrounding school districts, (4) strengthening partnerships between historic Voorhees University and Saint Augustine’s University, the only two remaining Episcopal HBCUs in the nation.
The motivation for the Institutes for Social and Environmental Justice, Diversity, and Inclusion at Voorhees University is to inculcate social and environmental change as a critical part of the very fabric of the institution. Inspiration from the following quote and scriptures direct the agenda: “The fierce urgency of now! ” Martin Luther King, Jr.; “Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough, you’ve let the wicked get away with murder. You’re here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them.” (Psalm 82:3 Message Bible), and “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow- ‘t (Isaiah 1:17 NIV)- The Institute will proactively engage in promising practices to optimize transformative considerations in social and environmental justice and actively implement a social and environmental change plan that will directly engage students, faculty, staff, and community constituents.
To our dismay, the City of Denmark and the County of Bamberg in South Carolina, the home of Voorhees University, hold the infamous federal designations as a Promise Zone and an Empowerment Zone rendering the areas among the poorest in the nation. As an act of Beloved Community, the strategic plan views the current disposition as an opportunity to employ Rural Community Development Institute (RCDI) at Voorhees University. The impetus for the RCDI is anchored in Matthew 25: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. ” (Matthew 25 NIV). The RCDI will conduct the Voorhees University Community-wide Needs Assessment in the City of Denmark, Bamberg County, and surrounding areas to frame our intentional work and engagement alongside our beloved community members. The University seeks to expand experiential learning opportunities for students and faculty, and to aggressively search for federal and other external funding to support our campus and external communities and establish systemic means of Becoming Beloved Community.
Hence, the strategic plan is designed to celebrate the University’s unapologetic committed to liberal arts and transformative education and clear understanding of how these educational approaches serve as the foundation for undergraduate and graduate teaching, research, and service, thus reflecting the historic mission and impact of Voorhees University. The Core Strategic Goals of the plan include: Strategic Priority 1: Academic Excellence and Student Success, Strategic Priority 2: Talent Acquisition & Management, Strategic Priority 3: Leverage/Leadership, Strategic Priority 4: Accountability, and Strategic Priority 5: Stability and Sustainability. The five-year plan, Strategic Plan 2022-2027 provides Voorhees University the A.T.L.A.S. to Our Next Level of Excellence.