Kickoff for the 29th Annual Southern Heritage Classic was still several days away when Tennessee State University President Dr. Glenda Baskin Glover rolled into her hometown Wednesday evening.
Don’t get it twisted. Glover is up for a good time. And while she gets her fill of such during the annual classic, Glover knows that “Classic” time is time for serious business.
With her schedule tight with activities, the first stop was her annual West Tennessee Scholarship Reception in the Sheraton Downtown Memphis. The signature event has netted scholarships to hundreds of top-graduating high school seniors in Memphis and the West Tennessee.
“We focus a lot on the Memphis area because – number one – we have some very dedicated and supported alumni and they encourage others to come to TSU,” Glover, who graduated from Geeter, told The New Tri-State Defender from Nashville on Tuesday.
At the reception, as she does elsewhere, Glover pitched the “nurturing and caring you get not only at TSU but at HBCUs in general that sets us apart from other universities.”
Such care has been on full display during the early days of the 2018-19 academic year, with focused efforts to make sure that all students have the support they need to work out their financial arrangements within the prescribed window.
While always conscious of being a role model, Glover is particularly so in her hometown. With candor, she recalls growing up in a part of the world that was not the most desirable part for a student to grow up in.
“I mentor students as I talk to them about what good things happen to students who come from Memphis,” she said.
Glover started her run as TSU president on Jan. 2, 2013, advancing a five-point vision: (1) academic progress and customer service, (2) fund raising and partnerships, (3) diversity and inclusion, (4) shared governance, and (5) business outreach.
Still on course, she notes that there has been a shift in Tennessee’s funding of public colleges and universities.
“The emphasis has shifted from input to output – performance-based funding. We are weighted more heavily now on the number of students who graduate. We have put our emphasis on that too.”
The first thing TSU did was change the admission standard. Upon until last year, a student could have a 2.25 grade point average (GPA) or 19 on the American College Testing exam.
“That really didn’t work well because students who didn’t excel academically could do well on the ACT and still get admitted if the GPA was 2.0. We changed that to say you have to have a 2.5 GPA and a 19 minimum on the ACT. I believe that gives a student a better chance to succeed, to graduate because every student deserves the support and opportunity to graduate.”
Students coming out of high school not college ready is “one of the biggest problems we have,” Glover said, taking note of funding and care disparities.
“The school systems have gotten left behind. …If the school system is left behind, then that will indirectly affect the child. …”
At TSU, “We’ve learned to make it on the broken pieces,” she said. “That’s what we teach our students. ‘You may not have had the best beginning but its not how you begin. It’s how you end. We share that with them. We give them coaching…we have mentors. We share with them so many opportunities to succeed.”
What keeps her up at night?
“…(W)ondering how we are going to keep the students in school; those we know came from a background where they can’t afford to be here but they are here.”
Funding for the school is better but not all-inclusive, she said. “You have to run a shoe string budget. The new model for presidents these days is you have to understand business. I happen to be a CPA and it’s challenging to me. …”
With the funding-model shift to output – the student graduation rate warrants increased focus and attention.
“The graduation rate is lower than it needs to be. It’s in the mid-30s percentile. The goal is 50 percent,” Glover said.
“We are putting in some measures, some retention methodology to bring the graduation rate up. We’re already improving the number of students who graduate. That’s been going up over the last three years. ..We still have to look harder at increasing.”
The most overlooked benefit that TSU offers is its students, Glover said.
“You have the most amazing students at TSU that I would put against any students anywhere and they would come out on top.”
Spend a few minutes with Glover and you’ll here the word “competitive.”
“We have become much more competitive. Our aim is to insure that TSU is competitive… to have competitive faculty that imparts knowledge to our students. We want to produce competitive students that are culturally competent. That is a trait that many schools simply don’t have. …Our students can function in almost any environment.”
TSU has been waving some of the entrance exam and graduate exam fees.
“We want to make sure we are competitive and get the good students. …We are putting in a lot of measures to help us remain competitive.”