Durham County

NCCU seeks gifts from alumni, others to fund prestigious new academic scholarship

N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and former Sen. Tom Apodaca, center, were among the architects of 2016 legislation that among other things created a new merit scholarship for N.C. Central University and N.C. A&T State University modeled on UNC Chapel Hill’s Morehead-Cain program.
N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and former Sen. Tom Apodaca, center, were among the architects of 2016 legislation that among other things created a new merit scholarship for N.C. Central University and N.C. A&T State University modeled on UNC Chapel Hill’s Morehead-Cain program. clowenst@newsobserver.com

With a new scholarship backed by state legislators coming on line next fall, N.C. Central University officials are raising their annual fundraising goal in hopes of securing the necessary matching funds without putting a big bite on other needs.

The university wants to raise $7.7 million from alumni and other donors by the end of the 2017-18 fiscal year next summer, Vice Chancellor for Advancement Harriet Davis told NCCU trustees this week.

That’s up $500,000 from a $7.2 million goal NCCU met the year before, the increase spurred in part by the need for it now to put $750,000 toward the launch of the Cheatham-White Scholarship program.

Davis believes the initiative will attract money from foundations and other donors that might be eager to help fund a new program modeled on UNC Chapel Hill’s Morehead-Cain scholarships.

“We’re not asking from just the alumni base,” she stressed. “We ask from private prospects who’ve indicated they have an interest in supporting these kinds of initiatives. We’ve already done the homework, we’ve begun the process, we started it toward the end of the last fiscal year.”

As the Morehead-Cain does at UNC-CH, the Cheatham-White scholarship will offer recipients a full-ride grant that covers all the major costs of attending N.C. Central or N.C. A&T State University.

The eligibility requirements are broadly similar when it comes to asking candidates to show leadership potential. The UNC system, in charge of administering the new program, says nominees have to have at least a 4.0 grade-point average in high school and minimum SAT score of 1280 on the test’s new scale.

But as a start-up, the Cheatham-White program doesn’t have the the kind of donor-and-investment-fueled, $197 million piggybank the Morehead-Cain’s administrators were leaning on as of the end of fiscal 2014-15. Instead, it’s launching with a combination of direct state appropriations and matching-funds requirements from NCCU and N.C. A&T.

State legislators got the ball rolling in 2016, the idea surfacing initially in an omnibus higher-education bill pushed by former Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, and other Senate Republicans.

Apodaca’s committee presentations left little doubt that the prime mover behind the bill was actually Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and in an interview Thursday he said point-blank the package was the brainchild of “Sen. Berger himself.”

“This was something he proposed. I was his lieutenant at the time. He came to me and said, ‘I want you to carry this for us,’” Apocada recalled, alluding to his then-role as chairman of the Senate’s rules committee.

The measure included a number of tuition and fee proposals, some specific to certain campuses, and some that applied throughout the UNC system. Many of its features changed before legislators wrote it into the state’s fiscal 2016-17 budget, but the Cheatham-White Scholarships plan was a constant and became law in practically its original form.

“We were trying to come up with a program similar to the Morehead and help our HBCUs,” Apodaca said, using the acronym for historically black colleges and universities. “We started with A&T and Central because they were at a point where it could be good for them in terms of recruiting students.”

The idea was that if the program succeeds on those campuses, it can be expanded to others in the UNC system, he said.

Legislators initially appropriated $300,000 in planning money, and this year followed up by pledging to give NCCU and N.C. A&T a combined $1.5 million in fiscal 2018-19 in time for them to enroll the first group of scholarship recipients. Each school can award up to 20 scholarships.

NCCU and N.C. A&T officials supported the new scholarship, which gives them a tool they can use in recruiting the sort of high achievers who’d be coveted as admission prospects by even the UNC Chapel Hills and Duke Universities of the academic world.

“It is something that’s an institutional opportunity,” N.C. Central Chancellor Johnson Akinleye said this week.

The matching-funds requirement, however, makes the launch less than pain-free for the two institutions.

Neither has the fundraising firepower of UNC-CH – no other school in the UNC system does – and NCCU at least is having to ramp up its annual goal by nearly 7 percent at the same time it’s also trying to secure donor support for a new business school building.

Apodaca said legislators understood campus-level fundraising might be an issue, and “discussed it.”

“But at the time we did it, I don’t remember that much push-back from the universities for matching it,” he said. “Usually in government, when you hear screaming, that’s when you look, and I do not remember hearing that out of the universities, that that would be a problem.”

He added that officials at both schools, including NCCU then-Chancellor Debra Saunders-White, had been “really excited” about the prospect of adding a Morehead-like scholarship.

NCCU is coming off a year that saw Davis and her staff meet its $7.2 million funding target, topping it in fact by $235,862.

But Akinleye said he’s “confident” the university can meet the new one.

“Any time the legislature provides funding for us, we would not be smart to say we don’t want it,” Akinleye said. “Even though we have to match it, that is another opportunity for us to create a merit scholarship. In fact, I’m thankful that they did that, because they didn’t have to. Any time we can raise the bar, bring in more bright students to help us raise our profile, I very much welcome that.”

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg