Lincoln University's new "Vision Statement" sets a tone for the future, Interim President Mike Middleton said last week.
Curators approved the five-paragraph statement at Thursday's board meeting, after Middleton had worked on it since coming to LU on June 1, 2017.
Its official title is "Lincoln University Vision: A 21st Century HBCU."
And Middleton said it's a statement about the role Lincoln — and most of the nation's more than 100 historically black colleges and universities — must play in order to survive in today's higher education climate.
LU was founded in 1866 by soldiers of the 62nd and 65th Missouri Colored Infantry units — and their white officers — as they were being mustered out of the service after the Civil War.
Their goal was to create an institute where freed slaves could learn reading, writing and arithmetic skills they had been forbidden to learn under an 1847 state law — and where they could learn new skills in addition to the limited work they had done as slaves.
However, Missouri was one of the states where racial segregation was enforced after the war, and Lincoln became "the only institution in Missouri where" African-American students like Middleton's older brothers "could have gone to — as bright as they were," he said.
While his two older brothers attended and graduated from LU, Middleton earned his degrees — including a law degree — at the University of Missouri.
LU and the other HBCUs, filling similar roles, "could attract the best and the brightest African-American students from all around the country," he said.
However, that changed after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education, that segregated schools violated the U.S. Constitution.
Lincoln, Middleton said, now is "an open admissions university with a historically black focus. But we are here to educate — consistent with our original mission — students who otherwise wouldn't be getting a higher education."
Often, he explained, they are students who won't be admitted to other state schools — including the Missouri University system; the University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg; or Missouri State University, Springfield — based on academic criteria.
"We can build something here (and) be a premiere institution that graduates students who others would have never looked at twice," he said, adding: "We just have to expand the vision of the soldiers of the 62nd and 65th beyond freed slaves who didn't have access to higher education, to the low-income people in some of these Mid-Missouri counties who don't have high ACT (college entrance test scores), who went to under-performing, under-funded public schools."
Nearly three-fourths of Lincoln's students qualify for federal aid programs aimed at low-income families, Middleton said, "who are bright kids who simply haven't had opportunities. We serve that population."
The vision statement says: "For those students who come to us in need of an institution that provides opportunity when others do not, the university opens minds to new ways of learning through exposure not only to caring faculty and staff, but also to peers who serve as leaders along their academic journey."
Middleton said, "That's our niche and we make them productive, successful members of society — without regard to race."
No one should be ashamed of Lincoln's "historical blackness that distinguishes us from everybody else," he said. "It is an attraction, the diversity that we have.
"These students also need to learn how to deal with people who are different from them, and they get that here."
And that's a goal outlined in the new vision statement.
With a student population that, right now, is roughly half-black and half-white, one of the vision statements findings is: "Students who matriculate through Lincoln University leave the institution well prepared to be fully and effectively engaged in the multi-cultural, multi-racial society that is our nation and our world."
Lincoln's role as an HBCU is important for all people to understand, no matter their own ethnic background, Middleton said.
"If you look at the history — and I always harp on the history of this country — slaves and white sharecroppers had the same thing in common," he said. "They were being abused by wealthy planters who were using their labor (and) we've got to break that cycle.
"We have to recognize the commonality between marginalized African Americans and marginalized whites — and have them understand the common situation that they share."
LU has faced generally declining enrollments over the last few years, and Middleton and the curators acknowledge that's one of the challenges facing new President Jerald Jones Woolfolk when she takes over the chief executive's job June 1.
The new vision statement talks about Mid-Missouri students who choose LU because it allows them to "build a strong educational foundation in a tight-knit environment that is close to home."
Curators in February authorized setting aside $500,000 for scholarships to attract more Mid-Missouri students to LU.
At Thursday's meeting, Chief Financial Officer Sandy Koetting clarified the criteria for students seeking the $1,000 per semester "Heart of Missouri Scholarship" that is renewable for eight consecutive semesters.
Those criteria include:
Students must be a graduate of an accredited high school in, and currently must reside in, one of 10 Mid-Missouri counties: Cole, Callaway, Boone, Moniteau, Morgan, Miller, Maries, Osage, Cooper and Howard.
They must matriculate to LU directly from high school, and lose eligibility for the scholarship if they choose to sit out the fall semester and begin in the spring.
High school students must earn at least an 18 score on the ACT.
They must have a cumulative high school grade point average of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale on their final high school transcript, and must maintain at least a cumulative 3.0 GPA while attending Lincoln.
Recipients must be degree-seeking students, enrolled on a full-time (at least 12 credit hours per semester) basis.
Recipients can't couple the Heart of Missouri Scholarship with the Curators, Presidential, Institutional, Dean's of LU-A-Plus awards — they must choose whichever scholarship best fits their needs.
Any student who fails to meet the criteria permanently loses the scholarship.