Monday, June 30, 2008

Bringing Wildcat hope to prison

It’s a Wednesday morning in June, 7:45 a.m. (that's early in my book), FVSU photographer Robert Ross, Admissions Director Donovan Coley, FVSU President Larry E. Rivers, his security man Corporal Bryant, and I head to Macon State Prison in Oglethorpe, Ga. The president is upbeat, energetic and talkative. That's typical. He's a morning person. I am not.

Dr. Rivers is the commencement speaker today. We drive past miles and miles of corn fields and sod farms, then pull into the facility's main entrance. "Welcome to Macon State Prison" the sign out front reads. After surrendering photo IDs, we walk through a metal detector, a chain link fence and barbed-wire gates. A sobering reality overtakes me. We're led to a large hall where a piano and drum version of "Pomp and Circumstance” is played. A small group of parents, friends and teachers of the inmates assemble.

Gold tassels dangle from purple and white mortar boards worn by the graduates, who are draped in gowns of the same color. Everyone files in orderly. I immediately notice how young the inmates appear. Boyish faces, good-looking brothers, nice smiles. I almost forgot where I was. This could've been any graduation ceremony. I was quickly reminded of my whereabouts after looking down at the prisoners' starched, creased white pants with navy blue stripe seams and shined black brogans. I want to cross my legs to get comfortable, but Coley elbows me and tells me to cross them at the ankles. I do.

I wonder, what can Dr. Rivers say to make the situations of these convicted felons any better? Should it be any better because of the crimes they've committed? Were they guilty? What difference does a degree make in the grand scheme of these lives? Why should I feel sympathy for them? What would the families of their victims think? If I were one of their victims, how would I feel? Questions like this fill my mind in rapid-fire succession until I force myself to snap back into the ceremony.

"Ignorance is your greatest enemy. You've heard the saying 'what you don't know can't hurt you?' I've spent 21 years on death row all because of what I didn't know," said Solomon, one of the few 60-something inmates among the graduates. “Education is liberation. Ignorance is your enemy."

That statement answered one of the questions bombarding my mind. For the incarcerated, education provides mental freedom, if nothing else. I know people on the outside of jail cells who are more bound than prisoners, in the head.

A soloist with the Men of Zion prison choir leads several songs. His voice is as smooth and sultry as Sam Cook's. "The road's been rough, the going's been mighty tough, but I'm still holding on. I'll never let go of His hand."

The atmosphere changes in the room. The program has turned into a church service. Dr. Rivers intentionally leaves the prepared speech in the SUV and speaks extemporaneously. "Isn't it strange...that princes and kings…" (from "A bag of tools," by R.L. Sharpe)

I've heard him start a speech with this poem several times. But today, the words have a new meaning. The message is delivered in a preacher’s tone, volume and cadence. The president cups the mic similar to the way I’ve seen older pastors do; stepping back and forth away from the podium, rocking from side to side. Spontaneous 'amens' and handclaps enliven the stark, depressing room as Dr. Rivers shares a personal testimony about struggle. A high school counselor encouraged him to look for employment as a janitor after graduation, implying that he wasn’t capable of getting into college. With nothing but the blessings of his mom, dad and money enough to pay for one semester of classes, the president entered FVSU.

The author of three books who earned two doctorates holds the audience in the palm of his hands.

"Get knowledge. I’m encouraging you to go beyond where you are. When things get tough, fall on your knees."

The Men of Zion sing again. And I bat back tears. I really want to find a quiet spot alone and cry my eyes out. I swallow hard and keep clapping. I can’t judge the offenses of the inmates. But I can do something to help toward their rehabilitation. An encouraging word, as Dr. Rivers spoke, can accomplish a great feat. An inmate’s letter to the president later describes how the commencement message had an impact. The inmate has applied to attend FVSU through the university’s online course offerings.

--Vickie J. Oldham is the Special Assistant to the President for Marketing and Communications at Fort Valley State University

Friday, June 27, 2008

FVSU-A Personal Touch

Today, many new freshmen will flock to our campus for pre-orientation. What they find here will set many parents' minds at ease - Fort Valley State University has a personal touch. This touch separates us from other universities and is like no other. We call him President.

It was during my fourth semester at FVSU when Dr. Rivers graced us with his presence. At the time I was taking a full load - and carrying one too - as I was pregnant with my second child, Robert Brandon. Drained with fatigue, I hadn’t the opportunity to attend any functions other than classes, so didn’t meet Dr. Rivers until summer 2006.

By that time, I was seven months into my gestation and it showed. I had just completed an overnight shift in a busy newsroom. I mustered up the energy to witness my best bud and fellow mass communication major, Chaquasha D. Tomlin, graduate magna cume laude during Fort Valley’s summer commencement ceremony.

After the ceremony was over, I weaved my way through the crowd. As I waddled across the Health and Physical Education Complex floor, Dr. Rivers approached me. He stopped what he was doing, placed his hand on my protruding belly and exclaimed, “This is a future Wildcat!” My son was predestined from the womb by our fearless leader to walk in greatness at our fine university.

To our incoming freshmen I say, “Hats off.” You’ve made a wise decision. To the parents I say, “at ease.” Dr. Rivers took the time during such a busy and historic moment, one of his first commencements as President of his alma mater, to let me know that he cared about the matriculation of my unborn son. This same consideration will be given to your children as well.

--Stacie Barrett works for the Office of Marketing and Communications at Fort Valley State University

There will be two more pre-orientation events prior to the start of fall semester: July 11 and July 18. For more information, please call 478-825-6307

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What makes a house a home?

As we say goodbye to retiring employees (some of whom spent thiry years or more with us) and seek to hire new faculty and staff, I am left wondering: What is it that makes a job more than a job?
At what point does a job become a career? At what point does your workplace become your second home and your coworkers your second family? What makes FVSU not just a place of employment or education but the home-base for a far-flung family?
Because there's definitely an X-factor. Maybe it's a phenomenon of time. After so long at a workplace, it's hard to not get to know the people you share an office with. It's hard to not care about their successes and hopes, their disappointments and setbacks.
And maybe it's the byproduct of good hiring. What makes one person stand out in a sea of applicants? Usually it's that person's ability to "fit in" with the existing staff. Or to round out the current talents in an office. And those are hard things to train for, if not impossible.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Change of command

I had the honor recently of attending the ROTC Change of Command ceremony for the Wildcat Battalion here at Fort Valley State University.

I was both heartsick and gladdened by the changes hearkened by this ceremony. Lt. Col. Anthony Foster will long be remembered by most as being at the helm of the Wildcat Battalion, a soldier carrying out a mission. For me, he will be remembered most fondly as a friend whom I met quite accidentally during my first year of service on the FVSU Judicial Committee in 2006.

I have over the years had many occasions to call upon him for advice, assistance and sometimes just to say “thanks” for being there. He was never too busy to take my call, always had a few minutes to sit and chat in his office about the progress of a cadet or ways to steer back on track some minor offender that I had encountered within judicial hearings. Most of all, he was compassionate and friendly, truly one of the good guys that we as a society so desperately seek in this age of uncertainty.

Recently Lt. Col. Foster spoke to a group visiting Vet Science as part of their health camp activities. After listening to him for a few minutes, I was kicking myself for not inviting him over the years to speak with the various groups that darken our door in need of recruitment to our campus. He is dynamic, down to earth and a sterling - no make that a “golden” - representative of all that is good about our military and our educational system here in The United States of America and I am heartbroken to see him go.

However the antithesis of grief is joy, and I am gladdened to see that the responsibility of leading the Wildcat Battalion is being passed on to Lt. Col. Terry Love, who will go down in history as the 13th Commander of ROTC here at Fort Valley State University. Although I do not know Col. Love personally yet, there is something special about seeing an alumnus come back and take their place “in The Valley.” I look forward to getting to know him and working together for the good of the students under his command. He comes resplendent with accolades and accomplishments which support the hope and faith that his new “FVSU family” already has in his abilities, but most of all he is “one of us.” To Col. Love and his family I bid simply “welcome, we are glad you’re here.”

To Col. Foster, I would just like to say: “May the wind always be at your back, the sun on your face and the hand of God resting squarely on your shoulders, farewell, my friend."

--Oreta Samples is the lead veterinary tech in the Department of Veterinary Science.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The lost art of the RSVP

This happens to me a lot, as I hostess a number of events for my fraternity and other organizations I am a part of. I send out invitations - either e-vites or beautifully made hand-written cards. "RSVP" is clearly marked. Usually, I'm trying to gauge how much food to have on hand. Days go by, then a week, then two. It's the day before the event and I haven't received a single RSVP. Helloooooo?!?!?

So what has happened to the lost art of the RSVP? Have we reached a point where people feel so entitled that surely a hostess must just assume they will attend? Are we so busy in our lives that we can't make a common courtesy call? Or do the letters RSVP no longer mean anything? Can people decipher "LOL" and "ASAP" but not "RSVP?"

Your thoughts?

--Misty Cline works for the Office of Marketing and Communications at Fort Valley State University.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There's a time for planning

I read with a little bit of horror both the news story about Georgia State Superintendent Kathy Cox requesting that local school districts push back their start dates and the ensuing "suggestions" posted online from sometimes well-meaning readers. (see

First, I don't know about all the other moms out there, but I have made arrangements for child care up to the day school is scheduled to start. Push back that date, and I'm left with a certain amount of time to scramble for child care. Summer camps are scheduled to end, the Boys and Girls Club camp here in Peach County had a scary time trying to find the funds to hold their camp at all. And can you imagine the non-traditional students starting college the same week as their kids? Or before? What if you've scheduled your classes around your kids' schedules (as much as possible)? I'm just saying mid-June might not be the best time to suggest changing an August start date.

Second, there was a lot of chatter in the "comments" section about going to a four-day school week. Now I know all the sound financial arguments for that - it would save a fortune in gas and electricity and school lunches. But as a working parent, again I'm horrified. You think my boss is going to let me go to a four-day workweek simply because my kid is out of school on Mondays? Or Fridays? Not a chance. So again I foresee a large number of parents scrambling for childcare. That is, unless some enterprising teachers band together to offer child care. But it can't be at the schools, can it? Because that defeats the purpose of "saving money" by not using the building that day. And frankly, if I'm a teacher and get moved to a four-day week of classes, I'm going to spend that extra day off grading papers, filling out the required paperwork (there's a mountain of it), studying for my own continuing education classes so I can stay certified, and so on. I'm not likely to take on a child care job for my students' parents. And as far as school lunches go, that one meal is, for a lot of students, the best meal they get all day. Friday lunchers sometimes have to make that meal last until Monday. Can you imagine trying to stretch it to Tuesday?

So Superintendent Cox's request left me, and apparently a lot of readers, with much to think about. If you care to continue the discussion in the "comment" section below, be nice, don't tear down anyone else's idea, and don't make personal comments like "so and so doesn't know what they are talking about" and don't bash teachers (that's my own personal pet peeve).

--Misty Cline works in the Office of Marketing and Communications at Fort Valley State University

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Living My Wildest Dream

Webster defines dream as "a strongly desired goal or purpose." All my life my mother and I dreamed of my being the first female in my family to earn a college degree.

My journey as a college student began more than twelve years ago. I attended a large state university at first. Two major factors changed my college career path. One was the loss of my mother during my sophomore year. Once my mother had gone, I had to work hard to take care of myself. After proving myself a valuable employee, my company transferred me out of state to the largest unit in the district - in Atlanta. My path had detoured, but for my own good. Eventually, all roads led to Fort Valley State University.

While I was working in Atlanta, I met my wonderful husband, Robert. Before you knew it, we were married and blessed with our beautiful daughter, Robin. Sooner than I could get diaper changing down pat, my company moved me once again - this time to the Middle Georgia area.

We were doing well. I had a magnificent husband, a radiant bundle of joy, and I was on a career path in the company as a vested eight-year employee. However, something was missing. After taking a short vacation to spend time with Robin, I discovered that something: I had given up on the dream. As I looked into my daughter’s eyes I thought, “How can I tell her to reach for the stars and capture all her dreams when I have given up on mine?”

I came to FVSU as both a transfer and non-traditional student. My career was traded in for the roles of domestic engineer and scholar.

FVSU is a public institution. As I heard Dr. Rivers tell the crowd at the Fall 2007 Preview Day, “Anybody as the right to matriculate at The Fort Valley State University....”

That includes a married mother of two, or anyone else who strayed away from their intended college career path. Let FVSU light the way. The road wasn’t easy, but through the support of my family and the university, my goal was obtainable.

--Stacie Barrett works in the Office of Marketing and Communications at Fort Valley State University

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rewards from the teaching profession

When I realized I wanted to be a teacher I was about 5 years old. I was not thinking about salary, workload, benefits, or rewards. All I was thinking about was how much I loved teaching. I was thinking about how much fun I was having sharing what I had learned with my “students” (my cousin and my dolls). I was thinking about how much happier I was when “playing school” than when “playing office.”

Now that I have been teaching for 37 years, I realize that I became a teacher because of the intrinsic rewards that come from this profession. I am still teaching because of the opportunities for self-improvement and life-long learning. I am still teaching because I love sharing knowledge and ideas with like-minded individuals. I am still teaching because I am still learning. Someone once told me that “the only job to have is the one that makes you happy.” That job, for me, is teaching.

One of the most rewarding experiences a teacher can have is to encounter his or her former students experiencing happiness and success in their chosen careers. This has happened to me twice in the last few months, and each time I experienced a sense of accomplishment and happiness. I realized that, in some small way, I helped these two former students, and others, accomplish their goals. Therefore, I had also accomplished one of my purposes in being a teacher. They were happy and I was happy for my small part in shaping their lives.

These two encounters are not the only ones I have had in the last 37 years, but they did reinforce once again why I chose a career in teaching. This profession does have a good salary base and good benefits. It does provide great learning experiences. It does have some tangible benefits. And I am very thankful for all of these benefits. But the primary reason for choosing this career and for my remaining in it for so many years is for its intrinsic value, for the value it has added to my life.

--Eleanor K. Sikes is the Interim Chairperson for Middle Grades Education Programs at Fort Valley State University

Friday, June 13, 2008

The day the world will end

This is the day the world will end. That’s right, Thursday, June 12, 2008, sometime today, according to Texas Prophet and notoriously poor speller, Yisyrayl “Buffalo Bill” Hawkins, nuclear war which will lead to doomsday will get under way today. If you are unfamiliar with Hawkins’ message, search for him on YouTube and you will be deluged with hits for his prophetic videos. If you’re a believer in these sorts of proclamations, its time to clean out your bank account and load up on Krispy Kremes, cigars, and 40s so you can kick back and watch the fireworks.

Unfortunately, Ol’ Bill has a history of being wrong. Hawkins also predicted that September 12, 2006, would be the date the world would end. Despite obviously missing that one, his followers keep following him. Many have legally changed their name to “Hawkins.” Why? Because Hawkins believes that only those with the last name of Hawkins will be saved.

Of course, according to ABC News[1], followers are also expected to buy their doomsday survival products from Hawkins’ own company. This, in addition to the no-doubt mandatory tithing to his ministry, makes the gospel of Armageddon a profitable message.

These guys probably got their start with the first caveman who, on a cloudy morning some millions of years ago screamed, "Oh heavens, some giant bird has eaten the sun and it will never rise again and we'll all die." After much general panic, when the sun rose again, he was beaten to death and life returned to normal.

People, especially it seems, fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants, have been claiming that we are living in the "end of days" as set forth in the Book of Revelation probably since St. John of Patmos set the document out for the ink to dry.Why this happens should be obvious. Imagine how empowering it would be to realize that you are the only person who has been given inside information about how the world is going to end and how people can survive the cataclysm. Now you can not only save those you care about, but you get to play god by choosing who lives and who dies. In addition, you will receive enormous amounts of adoration and if you are condemned by anyone as being a fool, your admirers will lash out at those who condemn you and praise you as a martyr. What a life!

Just in the past few years, how many times have we seen "great prophets" of doom appear? There were hordes of them surrounding June 6th, 2006 (6/6/6), Y2K, the avian flu, remember the suitcase nuke scares after 9/11? Religion has also seen hordes of them. These special individuals who use numerology, secret messages from their television, or "bible codes" to predict the dates of "raptures" or "second comings" or Armageddon. (Even though they wouldn't know what har Megiddo was nor could they find it on a map.)

In fact, the 1980s and 90s were decades of unparalleled optimism for eschatologists. According to What Really Happened.Com, the following are a sampling of the failed apocalypses of the time:
1980 - North Carolina prophecy teacher Colin Deal set dates for the return of Christ for 1982 or 1983, 1988, 1989, and in a March 17, 1989 radio broadcast, "about eleven years away." If at first you don't succeed...

1980 - Prophecy promoter Charles Taylor predicted rapture in 1988: “with the millennial reign of Christ due to begin in 1995, the rapture must surely occur in 1988 to coordinate with many other prophecies!" Not surprisingly, Taylor also made similar predictions for 1975, 1976, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, and, of course, 1989.

1981 - May 25. About fifty members of a group called the Assembly of Yahweh gathered at Coney Island, NY, in white robes, awaiting their "Rapture" from a world about to be destroyed between 3 p.m. and sundown.

1980 - Psychic Jeanne Dixon predicted a world holocaust for the 1980s.

1988 - Edgar C. Whisenant, in his book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988, gave a three day period in September for the saints to be "caught up with the Lord." When this failed, he issued another book claiming that he was a year off, and urging everyone to be ready in 1989.
1991 - Reginald Dunlop, end-times author, stated that "The Antichrist would be revealed" around the year 1989 or 1990, perhaps sooner." The Rapture he predicted for 1991."

1990 - Elizabeth Clare Prophet predicted the end of the world by nuclear war in 1990. Her church has since seen a decline in membership.

1992 - "Rapture, October 28, 1992, Jesus is coming in the Air." Full page ad in the October 20, 1991, issue of USA Today, placed by followers of the Hyoo-go (Rapture) movement, a loose collection of Korean "end-times" sects. When the prophesied events failed to pass, much turmoil broke out among the sects.

1993 - David Koresh, self-proclaimed little lamb of Isaiah 16, and the Second Coming of Christ, died in a fiery conflagration with some 80 of his followers.

1994 - Arab Christian prophet Om Saleem claimed that the antichrist was born November 23, 1933, that his unveiling would come in 1993 and the rapture in 1994.

1994 - Harold Camping, a radio evangelist, wrote a book entitled "1994?" In it, Camping says, "if this study is accurate, and I believe with all my heart that it is, there will be no extensions of time. There will be no time for second guessing. When September 6, 1994, arrives, no one else can be saved, the end has come."

1997 - Mary Stewart Relfe wrote in 1983 that she had received detailed "divine revelations" from God. She released a chart showing World War III beginning in 1989, the Great Tribulation starting in 1990, and that Jesus Christ would come back in 1997, just after Armageddon."

1997 - On March 25, followers of Marshall Applewhite’s Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass murder-suicide in Southern California

1998 - Larry Wilson, a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor, predicted four massive global earthquakes beginning around 1994 and ending in 1998 with the Second Coming.[2]

Of course, 1998 was when Edgar Cayce said the world was going to end, wasn’t it? Hal Lindsay and Nostradamus had us checking out in 2000. The list could go on for as long as you were willing to read[3], but it eventually just gets depressing.

I'm not saying that, someday, one of them is not bound to be right. What I am saying is don't waste your life fretting about each new "prophet of doom." Live joyfully and love boldly each day as if it were your last; because one day will be.

However, if you enjoy the prognosticators of doom, it appears the next big date to circle on your calendar is when the Mayan calendar runs its course in December of 2012. Apparently Staples is all out of refills.

[3] A more complete list can be found at:
--Dr. B. Keith Murphy is the Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Sciences at Fort Valley State University.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Continuing education

Your friendly blog administrator is a little behind this week. You see, I opted to spend some time learning instead of doing. And it was a good decision.

Every summer, FVSU and other institutions of higher learning come out with a schedule of classes for adults. Some of them are geared toward seniors, others toward teachers who need continuing education credits to stay certified. Still others are aimed to help adults in the work force improve the skills they use on the job - or gain skills that would make their jobs easier. You can find the current FVSU offerings here: My understanding is that the satined glass course is really quite something.

So I spent two days this week in computer training, catching up on the software and hardware that has come out since I was in college (okay, so a fraction of it. The Internet wasn't even a thing when I was in college). I'm pleased to say I'll be back at my desk Friday, ready to put my new skills to use, feeling more effective and productive.

I'm sure the feeling will pass.

--Misty Cline works for the Office of Marketing and Communications

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

History from a personal perspective

Saturday, June 7th, has long been remembered as D-Day, a time during World War II when Allied forces secured victory against the German army in a decisive battle that took place on the shores of France. The landing began the march across Europe in a move that would ultimately contribute to the eventual ending of the war.

A fan of all of the great generals of those days; Patton, Montgomery, and Bradley to name a few, I have immersed myself over the years in the rhetoric and literature surrounding that pivotal point in history. It probably didn’t hurt that I can lay claim to one father, four uncles and a godfather who volunteered, fought and came home from the same war and were therefore a part of history - vastly more exciting than the 8 a.m. history class I took as a college freshman.

My father served under General George S. Patton. As an only child born to two people whose ideas on childrearing included treating me like a “miniature adult,” by the time I was ten I not only understood who the Allies and the Axis were, I was enamored with the persona that was George S. Patton’s legacy to the world. You know the one: the profane, loud, obnoxious, God-fearing believer in reincarnation. Yep that’s the one. What information could not be gleaned from Dad’s stories was filled in through countless viewings of the movie “Patton,” starring George C. Scott. Now before you roll your eyes along with your computer mouse while simultaneously groaning that “Oreta can’t write about anything that isn’t patriotic, connected to some movie she watched a half a dozen times, or makes us cry” - bear with me. The direction of our journey will be visible over the next horizon…where our youth are residing.

At Fort Valley State University, we as faculty and staff members have the perfect opportunity to mold the minds and shape the lives of our charges – the students. We introduce students to things that they can only learn through recantations of the past - a past that is not only found in the pages of a history book (although that is certainly a good place to start). What do you have to share that would be a first-hand account of history? We are living in a time that is moving at the speed of light in terms of politics, war, scientific discoveries and other facets of daily life. We all have something to offer.

As I pointed out in last week’s blog, I “learned” something from the student’s point of view about rap music recently. It may not be the preferred setting on the radio for me, but I now have a clearer idea of what rap is all about. Take a moment and think of where you come from both geographically and personally; someone needs to hear about your experiences, your thoughts and your views.

One of the greatest blessings here at Fort Valley State University is the diversity we share. We are all so different yet we are all bound together by a commitment to serve the university and our students. Life experiences in the classroom drive home a message and catch students' interest. In the time it has taken you to read this, you have probably mentally revisited a few educators from your own past who taught you something that you have never forgotten. Wouldn’t it be so neat to leave that sort of an imprint on the students you encounter? Think about it, and while you do, I’ll just go off and ponder the current war in Iraq and wonder: “what would Patton do?” Have a beautiful week.

--Oreta Samples is the lead veterinary technician in the Veterinary Science Department at Fort Valley State University

Monday, June 9, 2008

Wildcats to visit Atlanta

Atlanta high school graduates and non-traditional students ready to take a step toward college will receive expert advice and a tasty meal at Fort Valley State University’s Annual Blue and Gold Social Cookout. The event gives potential metro area students and their families a taste of wildcat hospitality, Saturday, June 14, from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Atlanta’s J.C. Birdine Center. The festive barbecue is sponsored by the Metro Atlanta FVSU Alumni Chapter. Qualified students who apply will be admitted to the university on the spot.

“We’re holding this event in an effort to seal the deal with potential Wildcats and show others that FVSU is the place to be,” said FVSU recruiter Sammie Haynes.

During the cookout, a deejay will spin tunes while parents and future Wildcats chow down on hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and veggie burgers hot off the grill.

The Offices Recruitment and Admissions will walk individuals through the application process. Michael Dinkins – FVSU’s new scholarship coordinator – and other financial aid officers will smooth out the financial process for new students. Director of Bands Kevin Jones and Concert Choir Director Alvin Tuck will also be on hand recruiting new students.

Expect door prizes and giveaways throughout the day. Students are encouraged to RSVP prior to June 13. For more information, call (478) 825-6307.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Student Loans Start to Bypass 2-Year Colleges

Forgive the re-posting of this article, but when I read it here:
I had to pass it along.

Published: June 2, 2008 in The New York Times

Some of the nation’s biggest banks have closed their doors to students at community colleges, for-profit universities and other less competitive institutions, even as they continue to extend federally backed loans to students at the nation’s top universities.

Citibank has been among the most aggressive in paring the list of colleges it serves. JPMorgan Chase, PNC and SunTrust say they have not dropped whole categories, but are cutting colleges as well. Some less-selective four-year colleges, like Eastern Oregon University and William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif., say they have been summarily dropped by some lenders.

The practice suggests that if the credit crisis and the ensuing turmoil in the student loan business persist, some of the nation’s neediest students will be hurt the most. The difficulty borrowing may deter them from attending school or prompt them to take a semester off. When they get student loans, they will wind up with less attractive terms and may run a greater risk of default if they have to switch lenders in the middle of their college years.

Tuition and loan amounts can be quite small at community colleges. But these institutions, which are a stepping stone to other educational programs or to better jobs, often draw students from the lower rungs of the economic ladder. More than 6.2 million of the nation’s 14.8 million undergraduates — over 40 percent — attend community colleges. According to the most recent data from the College Board, about a third of their graduates took out loans, a majority of them federally guaranteed.

“If we put too many hurdles in their way to get a loan, they’ll take a third job or use a credit card,” said Jacqueline K. Bradley, assistant dean for financial aid at Mendocino College in California. “That almost guarantees that they won’t be as successful in their college career.”

So far, financial aid administrators say they have been able to find fallback lenders that students can switch to, but the hurdles are costly to students — in money and time. The maximum interest rate on federal loans, now at 6.8 percent on the most commonly used loans, is set by Congress, but lenders are scrapping benefits, like rate cuts for borrowers who make their payments on time or allow direct withdrawals from bank accounts.

Some loan companies have exited the student loan business entirely, viewing it as unprofitable in the current environment. By splitting out community colleges and less-selective four-year institutions, some remaining lenders seem to be breaking the marketplace into tiers. Students attending elite, expensive, public and private four-year universities can expect loans to remain plentiful. The banks generally say these loans are bigger, more profitable and less risky, in part perhaps because the banks expect the universities’ graduates to earn more.

Lenders will not say how many colleges they have dropped, making it hard to determine just how many institutions have been affected. Although financial aid administrators say the trend is widespread, they are often reluctant to identify which lenders have stopped serving their colleges, for fear that it will complicate matters for current students who have taken out loans from those lenders and still need to deal with them.

Michelle McClain, 40, who is studying to become a teacher, learned on Friday that she would have to find a new lender after Citibank dropped William Jessup University. The news angered her.

“The loan is between me and the lender,” Ms. McClain said. “I’m the one that’s taking out the loan, I’m the one whose credit is in jeopardy if I don’t pay it, I am the one totally responsible for the loan, and as long as I’m going to an accredited college, I don’t understand why it would make one iota of difference where I am going to college.”

The government has been taking additional steps to keep the student loan market operating smoothly. And some lenders’ doors remain wide open. Sallie Mae and Nelnet recently reaffirmed their commitment to federal loans regardless of the institution a student attends. Kristin Shear, director of student financial services at Santa Rosa Junior College, said that days after the school was dropped by Citibank, Wells Fargo called to say it was eager to lend to students there.

The banks that are pulling out say their decisions are based on an analysis of which colleges have higher default rates, low numbers of borrowers and small loan amounts that make the business less profitable. (The average amount borrowed by community college students is about $3,200 a year, according to the College Board.) Still, the cherry-picking strikes some as peculiar; after all, the government is guaranteeing 95 percent of the value of these loans.

Mark C. Rodgers, a spokesman for Citibank, which lends through its Student Loan Corporation unit, said the bank had “temporarily suspended lending at schools which tend to have loans with lower balances and shorter periods over which we earn interest. And, in general, we are suspending lending at certain schools where we anticipate processing minimal loan volume.”

Financial aid officials in California said that Citibank had stopped making loans to students at all community colleges in the state. Mr. Rodgers said the bank would not provide details about which schools were affected.

The financial aid director at William Jessup, Korey Compaan, said he did not understand the bank’s explanation.

“The logic is so flawed, that for us to have volume with them in the future, we have to have had volume with them in the past,” Mr. Compaan said. Simply to cut off students at a college, he continued, “I find it totally and completely unethical.”

The government sets the criteria for college participation in federal loan programs, requiring that colleges be accredited and have low default rates to participate, for example. Now lenders are being more selective than the government.

“There’s been a certain amount of market segmentation going on, but this is the first time we’ve seen a lender, especially as large as Citibank, saying, ‘We don’t want to do business with you,’ ” said Samuel F. Collie, director of financial aid at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Ore.
“There’s a fundamental issue of fairness and equity that’s certainly not being addressed in this,” Mr. Collie said. “But short of completely revamping the way that financial aid, especially loans, is being delivered to students in this country, I don’t know that we have any easy answers.”

The credit crisis, which has made it harder for some lenders to raise money, and a reduction in the government’s subsidy to lenders have contributed to the reevaluations by the lenders.

“This is one of those perfect storm situations,” said Susan L. Mead, director of financial aid at Dutchess Community College in New York. She said her institution had been dropped by no less than six lenders: HSBC, Citibank, M&T, Chase, Citizens Bank and Student Loan Xpress.

Christine Holevas, a spokeswoman for Chase, said that the bank considered several factors in deciding whether to lend to a particular college’s students. “The repayment rate, you look at the size and length of the loan,” she said. “We have tightened credit standards, yes, but we haven’t cut off any category of school.”

Hugh Suhr, a spokesman for SunTrust, said it was “stepping away from some relationships” with universities, but that this was “not based on any particular type of school.” Mr. Suhr said the bank continued to lend to students at a range of institutions.

Another danger for students is that as they are forced to find and switch to replacement lenders, they may lose track of some debt obligations and miss a few payments.

“It might put them in default,” said Claudia Martin, director of financial aid at Monterey Peninsula College, a community college in California that was dropped by Citibank and two other lenders. “We always recommend that a student stay with the same lender all through school.”
Commercial colleges, among the first to suffer when lenders withdrew from the market, have been openly critical of the new differentiation.

“From what I can tell from our lawyers, it’s not technically illegal for them to reject schools,” said Harris N. Miller, the president of the Career College Association in Washington, a trade group for commercial colleges. “I just think that’s very objectionable.”

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Hindsight is 20/20, part II

In an effort to protect the tellers of these tales, I will share some stories that have come my way following the "What did you wish you knew before you went to college" post.

A coworker here in The Valley told me that, prior to entering college, she had never had to make a bed. "I wish I had known how to do that," she confessed. Which brings up a whole list of life skills that college freshmen need before going off to live in a dorm. Moms and dads, here's your homework: Teach the kiddies how to
1. Do laundry
2. Grocery shop - on a budget
3. Create a budget (and live on it)
4. Cook basic meals - boil water, use an oven without catching anything on fire
5. Put out a fire - with a fire extinguisher and with salt (for those in-oven disasters)
6. Clean a bathroom
7. Patch small nail holes in a wall (so that's what spackle is for!)
8. Sew on a button, repair the hem in a skirt or pants

Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Rap on

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get."

And with those words launched perhaps one of the most lovable goofy characters to hit the big screen in a long time – Forrest Gump. For years the cinema has entertained, provoked and at times frightened all of us. My last blog detailed my own fascination with the legend of Bigfoot and the introduction of this believe-it-or-not creature to me when I was ten years old and saw “The Legend of Boggy Creek.” Perhaps you remember your first dinner and a movie date with that special someone; while the “someone” may not still be a part of your life, they never leave your memory.

Movies and music affect all of us in different ways and, as someone who has spent the last thirteen years of her life on our beautiful campus, I recently had the opportunity to both listen to and read some rap music. I have a bit of a hearing impediment, actually a 90% loss in high frequency, so lyrics have always escaped me as I find myself straining to understand what is being sung, or in this case, rapped.

Last week, during a visit to one of the local nail salons where I was having my bi-weekly pedicure-pamper session, the television was tuned to rap videos when someone hit the closed caption button and the words began to stream across the screen like a manic Dow-Jones Report at the closing of a big day on Wall Street. I started reading while enjoying the beat. I don’t remember the name of the first artist but the song was called “Silly.” As that song faded into another, then another, I found myself enraged, entrenched, romanced and then with a blinding headache that even the warm waters swirling around my toes would not erase. While some lyrics were profoundly disgusting and profane, others were a love story set to a drum beat with nary a profane remark in the entire story: losing the girl, finding the girl and holding the girl through eternity.

While this form of music is not one of my personal choosing, just like most everything else that mankind creates, there is a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly and truly one has to subject oneself to a sampling to be able to separate them. I worry about the children and the young adults who hold those entertainers in high esteem who glorify murder, degradation of women and disrespect for authority through their abuse of a God-given talent. And while this musical form (and yes it is a culturally induced form of music, just like Sinatra was a cultural icon in the fifties, Elvis and the Beatles in the sixties and on and on) is not one that is necessarily of my preference, it does illustrate something about America that makes us great – freedom of expression. And while I don’t think that the framers of the Constitution or the United States military are presently defending our countries right to “rap on,” they did and still do protect our freedom of choice and the freedom of individual expression, which includes the freedom to rap about distasteful subject matter.

So if anybody out there knows someone with a head for writing rap music lyrics, how about a good and decent rap anthem to salute both the United States and our military - you know the ones that are protecting your right to…rap. Any takers?

--Oreta Samples is the lead veterinary technician in the Veterinary Science Department at Fort Valley State University

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

My Space and Facebook

There's been a lot of buzz lately about colleges using social networking sites MySpace and Facebook to connect with their students and potential students. FVSU President Dr. Larry E. Rivers set up a page last fall to better keep in touch with both students and alumni, and has had success in addressing concerns, keeping in touch, and sharing information with the millennial generation. Find him here:

Monday, June 2, 2008

Working with FEMA

I spent the day Friday helping the FEMA representatives who are in the area following the Mother's Day tornadoes. While Fort Valley was spared, Bibb and other outlying counties are still deep in the recovery process. Friday, FEMA opened new Recovery Assistance Centers so that people with storm damage could file claims. It was a privilege to help, and a learning experience.

Why would FEMA call on Fort Valley State? Well, several months ago the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) held training on campus for public information officers at colleges around the state. Having participated in that training, we were asked if the agency could call on us in the event of a disaster. Of course, the answer was "yes."

It all comes down to locality. When there's a disaster, and GEMA comes in to help, then FEMA comes in to help, the individuals who work for these agencies aren't usually from the area they are helping. So it falls to those of us who live here to say "this is the local television station. And this is the person in charge there. These are the top radio stations. Here are the phone numbers for the deejays." Because the best thing we can do to help disaster victims is give them the information they need to get help.

So when the disaster recovery center in Twiggs County opened at 8 a.m. on Friday, and the local media was already telling people that we were there to help, your local public information officers considered that "a job well-done."

--Misty Cline works in the Office of Marketing and Communications for Fort Valley State University.