Central State University was last month named as our 2017 HBCU of the Year, and to steady observers of HBCU culture, there was no great surprise in how the institution earned such an honor.
Steady growth in academic profile and enrollment, a historic entrance into the exclusive club of 1890 land grant institutions, and an innovative approach to fiscal management in a political swing state make Ohio’s flagship HBCU a model for any institution working to build capacity and brand.
But today the school announced a new initiative that will take its award-winning approach to growth in a totally different direction. The school will begin phased annexation into the nearby city of Xenia, OH., a major development which will help CSU to expand its vision for capital projects, research and extension, and financial gains.
“Central State University has a long and interwoven history with the City of Xenia,” said Central State President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond. “After many focus groups with statewide stakeholders and alums from across the country, on the cusp of welcoming our largest freshman class in years, we realize that if Central State University is to expand its visibility, economic growth and sustainability, we must forge a formal relationship with our closest municipality.’’
But what exactly is the benefit of being one of the biggest companies in Xenia, OH? Financially, it means reduced rates on municipal services like emergency response and utilities. Academically, it means increased resources to support its new land-grant mission, including marketing and support for cooperative extension outreach to farmers and agribusiness leaders which can help the school to enhance federal and state grant making opportunities.
Culturally, it enhances Central State’s position as a central element of Xenia’s effort to revitalize its commercial and real estate development. If Central State reforms Xenia as a college town, it would be a major coup for a school that just two years ago was on financial watch by state auditing officials, and a town looking to build its brand beyond being an suburban offshoot of Dayton, OH.
There are many HBCU cities across the country – Baltimore, Houston, Raleigh, Nashville, Washington D.C., Atlanta, New Orleans are municipalities with at least two stationed or proximate HBCUs, but none are globally known as HBCU cities, but cities with HBCUs within them.
Could Central State develop Xenia as an HBCU city that considers its basketball teams as the city’s teams, its student body as the social and economic lifeline of the area, and its research as a regional point of pride? It could happen in the years that will follow this initiative – and unlike cities such as Orangeburg, SC or Tallahassee, FL., industry could easily complement the mutual growth between CSU and Xenia attached to possible increases in enrollment, new construction, and new programs.
School and city leaders deserve a lot of credit for innovative thinking to make CSU a stronger partner with the state, and for moving it towards a more sustainable future. Their partnership is a model which states could and should use in developing black colleges as a resource for civic growth and empowerment.