Midtown: Community

St. Augustine’s ready for university status

August marks history in Midtown Raleigh as St. Augustine’s College takes on university status.

It’ll be official Wednesday.

“We know, to be competitive in this area among so many institutions of higher learning, we have to do something different,” said Marc Newman, vice president of institutional advancement and development. “It’s time.”

We’ve watched it unfold – a strategic plan for growth and progress that demands our notice.

In 2002, after President Dianne Boardley Suber spent a couple of years getting her “house” in order under the very public pressure of community scrutiny, she led the charge to reinstitute the school’s football program.

From there, we can pinpoint progressive pushes to revive oft-smothered dreams: building the school’s first-ever athletic complex; renovating the historic St. Agnes Hospital into a community health and campus academic center; and beefing up the academic offerings, faculty profile and admissions and graduation records.

“The time is right; now, because the college has reached a point where it is ready to move to the next level,” Suber said. “Now is the time to capitalize on the positive growth and development, and positive accreditation, enrollment and financial security.”

Turning to the Obama administration’s focus on higher education accessibility and academic momentum on the world stage, Suber pointed to St. Augustine’s “strong faculty of innovative thinkers.”

“We’re ready to take the next step,” she said. “Let’s stretch our wings.”

Suber’s leadership benefits our community. With Shaw University less than two miles away, Midtown is now home to two historically black universities, which could bring economic development opportunities.

“We wanted to be sure it wasn’t just a name change; that, in fact, the institution was truly moving from one status to another,” Suber said. “We knew the community would be looking at us to see whether it was just a name or are we moving the university to the next level.

“There was a plan,” Suber said. “There is a plan.”

‘A step up’

While St. Augustine’s University completes its George Williams Athletic Complex and continues its five-year, $25 million capital campaign, it also is settling into a partnership with Rex Hospital to revive St. Agnes. The school also is preparing to offer, as early as next year, a physician’s assistant graduate program, its first master’s degree. The school also has expanded its academic offerings in its adult education programs and created Center for Excellence opportunities in forensics, medical sciences, and athletic facilities and sports management.

Alumni like the direction Suber has taken their alma mater – and they’re ready to go along for the ride.

“It is a step up,” said James Revis, a 1953 graduate of St. Augustine’s who now serves on the school’s community development board.

Shirley Page, a retired Wake County Public School educator who finished St. Augustine’s in 1961, agrees.

“It’s a normal progression of growth, and we’re very pleased with that,” said Page, 72. “University status has an edge over college status when it comes to people’s perceptions, and it has taken a lot of growth on the part of St. Augustine’s to become a university.

“We all should be proud of that.”

Anthony McAllister graduated from St. Augustine’s in 1988. For the past 21 years, he’s been a parole officer with Alexandria Juvenile Court in Virginia.

While he’s inspired by the changes at his alma mater, he also hopes what’s new reminds school leaders to reach back and rely on its legacy of alumni.

“The aesthetic part of it is good. You can see that,” said McAllister, 49, who also co-owns a counseling agency in Washington, D.C. “But my hope is we can really start connecting older, middle-age and younger alumni because that’s a great opportunity for us to really build the university and make it better, simply by making people feel included.”

McAllister suggests that diversifying the school’s outreach to alumni and making it all-inclusive could bring more people within the Falcons wingspan.

“Everything is not tied to a dollar when you’re talking about alumni involvement,” McAllister said, noting additional contribution can be found in the at least 20 young people from the D.C. area he steered to attend school at St. Augustine’s.

“What will happen is we’ll start to attract more people to St. Aug, whether it’s to a track event or for academics, and that will increase the number of people who are in tune with what St. Aug. is all about.

“That is a good thing for the entire university.”