“Mr. J.H. Washington, Supt. of Ind. Not later than this week I wish you to go over the whole subject of the wages of students and recommend whatever reduction you think should take place. I wish a reduction of not less than one-third to be made. Small boys whose work can be of almost no service need special attention.”“September 4, 1894,” -Booker T. Washington
Presidential Commentary by Dr. Brian Johnson
The fiscal management of student financial assistance or aid was not beyond the managerial scope of the founding principal and president of Tuskegee Institute (University). For many institutions, net tuition revenue received from students-not the headcount of students visibly present-is the principal driver of an institution’s annual budget. In addition to federal and state aid in the form of grants and loans-and a host of other resources that students may receive including scholarships or personal resources, Institutions provide a number of options to assist students in the form of institutional scholarships, which are often “discounts”, alumni scholarships, donor scholarships and work-study. All the same, a university’s ability to provide on-going and continuous improvements to its technology, infrastructure and services available to students is partially contingent upon the monies these students pay in tuition billing to attend and secure a baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate degree. (Deep discounting or mis-managed discounting of tuition bills often leads to discounting the quality of the student experience at the institution. And this did not occur on the first president of Tuskegee University’s watch.) Mr. Washington requested a full review “over the whole subject of the wages of students” and he “recommend[ed] whatever reduction you think should take place.” It is well known that the early Tuskegee Institute students received monies in the form of wages to help pay their tuition bills so that they could remain enrolled. (Even the founding principal and president found work as a janitor at Hampton Institute to remain enrolled.) An institution has both a moral and civic duty to help her students but it also has a fiscal duty to itself. Moreover, this review also included the discounting of “[s]mall boys whose work can be of almost no service need[ed] special attention”. Presumably, there were “small boys” who were receiving “wages” from the institution-or in 21st Century nomenclature, “financial aid”-that did not demonstrate a reciprocal benefit for the institution. Perhaps they signed up for a responsibility that they did not perform? Perhaps they underperformed because they could not lift the bales of hay? Perhaps they underperformed because they could not lift the well-known bricks that Tuskegee Institute students were known throughout the region for? All the same, Mr. Washington requested a review of their work to determine whether the aid given to them in wages is the appropriate use of institutional monies. For the milk of Mother Tuskegee is available for all of her children, yet the institutional responsibility to steward her resources while simultaneously replenishing them is what will ensure that the milk continues to flow.
Brian L. Johnson, Ph.D.