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The Power of “We” – The Atlanta University Consortium (AUC)

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Note from John Ahmann:

The Atlanta University Consortium (AUC) by definition demonstrate the power of We as the world’s largest consortia of African American private institutions of higher education. These constellations of institutions have long served as an anchor for the Westside and have had an incredible impact morally, economically, and politically on not only Atlanta but the country. The AUC is an essential and foundational building block in our collective Westside revitalization efforts. Todd Greene was appointed June 11, 2018 as the Executive Director of AUC, after 10 years with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta as vice president of Community and Economic Development. Todd brings vision, passion, smarts and experience to his new role. Read Todd’s column to learn more of the history of the AUC, their impact and plans for the future.

Todd Greene

By Todd Greene, Executive Director of AUC

Last week I had an opportunity to meet with Friendship Baptist Church Pastor Richard Wills Sr. He shared the incredibly rich history of the church and its role in the infancy of both Morehouse and Spelman colleges. As a history buff, this information was certainly of great interest and furthered my own curiosity. And then later in the week, I was given a campus tour of Spelman College by Tiffany Nelson– the admissions director. As we walked across the campus, with its many historically significant buildings, my first inclination was to contextualize my visit with Pastor Wills by reflecting on Spelman’s humble beginnings where classes were first taught in the old Friendship Church building. But, my inclination to revel in history was short-lived as Tiffany talked more about Spelman. Both her conversation and what my eyes witnessed was not so much about history, rather the focus was on the future. What I saw, heard, and understood was Spelman College (like its Atlanta University Center peer institutions) is continually adapting curriculum and physical spaces to respond to our modern economy. Innovation, makerspaces, artificial intelligence, and data analytics are not just buzzwords; they are serious programs and opportunities afforded to Spelman women.

Spelman College is not alone in its adaptation or success, nor is it alone in the contributions of its graduates to Atlanta and the world among AUC institutions. Prior to my acceptance of the new role of executive director of the Atlanta University Center Consortium, I had some familiarity with Spelman College as well as the other three member institutions currently comprising AUCC – Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Morehouse School of Medicine. As part of my own research agenda at my former employer – the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta – I learned about the important role historically Black colleges and universities play in today’s dynamic labor market. They create success for their graduates and for the entities that employ them. Indeed, AUC graduates are in leadership positions in nearly every Atlanta employer. I, (like you I am sure) am continually meeting amazing people – business, civic, and community leaders who are graduates of AUC institutions.

Yet, despite the many achievements of graduates, the AUC institution presidents are not content to stand on the past. Rather, these leaders are continuously testing and implementing new approaches for current and future students to promote success, relevance and sustainability – all in an environment where the roles of colleges and universities are evolving. Models of higher education, particularly for schools having smaller student populations, are challenging where the demand for specialized majors, technologies, and student amenities are increasing. Furthermore, the evolution and expansion of for-profit universities, (whose flexible scheduling and online approaches are attractive to many minority students who often must balance the pursuit of education with employment), has impacted enrollment trends for traditional colleges. These trends in higher education are particularly pronounced at HBCUs due to a number of factors largely connected to trends facing Black America – more susceptible to economic shocks; largely have lower wealth; and are heavily populated by first-generation college students.

Nonetheless, the collective importance and strength of the AUC is unequalled. With over 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students, AUC institutions offer more than 60 different degrees options. AUC schools are conducting groundbreaking research across a range of subjects much of which is focused on disparities that impact minority populations across the country and worldwide. Our graduates are successful by most any objective measures. One outstanding statistic is that over the last 10 years, our schools are responsible for more than 40 Fulbright Scholars.

Notwithstanding this strong record of success, our leaders are vigilant about positioning each AUC institution for an enduring and successful future. The renewed focus on the Atlanta University Center Consortium is evidence of this focus, and I have been fortunate to be selected as the leader to shepherd the development of collaborative approaches that are intended to undergird our institution’s collective and individual impact, relevance and sustainability. Collaboration is not new to the AUC; for example, cross registration has been in place for decades. And indeed, AUCC has been in place for 90 years, yet the importance of collaboration has waxed and waned through the decades. Today, the power of collaboration and the impact it can have for our students, faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders is both compelling and not yet fully realized.

In my new role, I am pleased to work for the four visionary leaders, each with different backgrounds and approaches. Yet, they are all acutely aware of how HBCUs must transform for the future by leveraging every available resource, including each other. While still in the early stages of the transformative process, I have already benefitted from the varied and amalgamated perspectives of Clark Atlanta University President Ronald A. Johnson, an economist; Morehouse President David A. Thomas, an organizational development expert; Morehouse School of Medicine President Valerie Montgomery Rice, a scientist and physician; and Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell, a scholar and cultural art expert. The intellectual depth, experiences, and leadership talents of each president are embodied in the re-imagined AUCC.

While I have just been on the job about three months and the details of AUCC’s agenda are being honed, our work will focus on three dimensions, the first of which is designed to improve our collective academic and research capabilities through creatively and nimbly leveraging strengths across institutions. Developing new cross-campus majors and degrees is just one example of how we can build upon the capability of our institutions in dynamic ways that would otherwise be unviable for any one school to develop alone. Importantly, enhancing our partnerships with industry through internships, career placement, and research is another area where we expect greater synergy and impact through collaboration.

Second, we will optimize our campus operations by forging synergies that provide cost savings and higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness. For example, we have already launched cross- campus projects designed to improve our telecommunications capability and costs, streamline our procurement approaches, and enhance safety and security.

Third, we are working in partnership among the schools and with key stakeholders in the Atlanta University Center neighborhood to bolster the collective impact of our numerous community-engagement efforts in the area schools and with local businesses. Our collective role as place-maker is also increasing as we work with the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to enhance the Atlanta University Center neighborhood’s vitality.

At the AUC, while we are proud of our past, the future is now. I look forward to updating you in the future about how collaboration is strengthening our impact and creating better outcomes for students and the Atlanta community.

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