Dr. John S. Wilson Jr. has an outstanding resume. So much so that he was headhunted after a rigorous nationwide search to take on the role as president of Morehouse College.
Wilson, who officially started his new job on Monday, has an exciting and challenging task ahead of him as Morehouse and other HBCUs struggle to remain relevant and financially viable in a more competitive higher education environment.
“It is clear across all higher education establishments that the current financial model is unsustainable,” says Wilson in his first print or online media interview since taking office. “HBCU’s are no different. It’s incumbent upon leadership to figure out ways to be innovative and creative when it comes to our financial models.”
Indeed, the financial recession is still taking its toll on U.S. higher education. HBCUs, for the most part, have faced greater challenges than predominately white institutions, from dwindling enrollment rates to competition from cheaper online colleges.
Therefore, Wilson says his short-term goal for the prestigious all-male liberal arts college is to stabilize the campus and strengthen the infrastructure.
For the future, he plans to “vigorously pursue capital preeminence” such as state-of the-art infrastructure. He also wants to focus on “character preeminence,” which he says is “not just educating smart people but educating and graduating good people as well.”
Looking at his track record, it is clear Wilson is passionate and committed to academic excellence and advancing the interest of black colleges.
“HBCUs are a very special class of institution and they have an important place in history and America’s future,” he says. “It’s important not to get completely distracted by the challenge to survive so we can embrace the challenge to thrive.”
He comes to Morehouse from the Obama administration where he served as director of the White House initiative on historically black colleges and universities. He worked to strengthen the capacity of 105 HBCUs and led his team to work with the White House, 32 federal agencies, and the private corporate and philanthropic sectors in securing capital.
It was under his leadership that the president authorized a major grant — $228 million — directly to benefit HBCUs. In fact, under Obama federal support for HBCUs increased from $3.64 billion in 2008 to $5.3 billion in 2011.
Wilson told theGrio that his new role is an opportunity to pursue many of the key concepts and strategies he worked on at the White House. He says he is poised to lead the discussion and analysis to improve the college’s financial health