Anthony Jenkins, who has been president of West Virginia State University for about 31/2 years, is leaving to lead another historically black university, in Maryland.
University System of Maryland Chancellor Robert Caret announced Monday that its Board of Regents has chosen Jenkins as the next president of Coppin State University, in Baltimore, starting in May.
The number of post-high-school students enrolled in WVSU dropped by one-fifth during Jenkins’ tenure, although large increases in high-schoolers taking WVSU courses kept the school level in overall credits taken.
Jenkins successfully advocated for recent funding increases for WVSU, including finally getting a state dollar to match every federal land-grant dollar it receives. But a possible statewide budget cut may put those gains on the chopping block, alongside other colleges’ funding increases.
He vocally opposed failed legislation that would have forced public colleges to allow guns on campus, and, as a member of Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Four-Year Higher Education, Jenkins spoke in favor of protecting smaller schools’ territory from larger schools’ encroachment.
In October, WVSU got final approval to start a nursing bachelor’s degree program. It will be the school’s first nursing program in a decade.
Last summer, the WVSU Board of Governors gave Jenkins a five-year contract extension that raised his annual base salary by $20,000, to $255,000. That’s atop other benefits, like his $1,200 monthly vehicle stipend.
Jenkins said he’s still in contract negotiations with Coppin State but that there are only “minor issues that we need to work through” and that he is, in fact, leaving.
He said he was getting messages from search firms twice a week, alerting him to new opportunities, which he turned down until now.
“This was not something I was looking for, I was nominated for this role,” Jenkins said. “This opportunity was very appealing, because it is the academic offerings. It’s a research doctoral granting institution.”
He said the move is bittersweet, though.
“I am so proud of the work done here at WVSU and the team that has helped move this university forward,” he said.
Board Chairman Chuck Jones said that, “while we hate to see Dr. Jenkins leave, it’s understood that these things happen and you put your best foot forward and you continue. This is an institution — it’s not one person — and so we will survive this and move forward.”
Jenkins is not the only top WVSU leader to leave recently.
Kumara Jayasuriya, the school’s provost and vice president for academic affairs since 2014, left in July to become president of Southwest Minnesota State University. R. Charles Byers, a former WVSU provost, is filling in.
Jenkins said Byers has agreed to stay “until a permanent provost is hired, so there is no ground lost there.”
WVSU has been searching for a new provost since the spring, according to its website, and the school has already named three finalists. However, the Board of Governors’ Jones said the next president “may or may not want that particular provost, so that has been put on hold.”
In August, Orlando McMeans, who started working for WVSU in 1998 and served in numerous leadership roles, left his position as vice president for research and public service to become a leader at a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, campus of Southern University.
Jenkins said the vice president of research position might not be refilled.
Since Fall 2016, around when Jenkins took office, WVSU’s enrollment has increased about 16 percent, to reach 4,120, according to data from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. That’s if you just count the total number of students taking for-credit classes.
The HEPC data show that more than half of those students are high-schoolers taking college courses. And most of those high-schoolers are “dual enrollment” students, taking classes not on campus, but in their high schools from WVSU instructors.
Exclude them, and WVSU’s enrollment has dropped by 20 percent during Jenkins’ tenure, including a 36 percent drop in first-time freshmen. They now number only 270.
Full-time equivalency can be used to broadly compare colleges’ enrollment over time, because it accounts for the fact that colleges have high school, part-time and full-time students. The calculation counts 15 credit hours being taken as one full-time equivalent student.
So it is the continued growth in high-schoolers taking WVSU courses — including a 32 percent jump from last fall to this fall — that has been able to maintain WVSU’s number of full-time equivalent students at just under 2,400, about 1 percent higher than when Jenkins started.
Jenkins said enrollment declines have been a trend statewide. He also noted the new state law that provides free community college tuition.
“External factors play a significant role in those figures,” Jenkins said. “You have to give new programs time to develop.”
Jones said, “There are a lot of positive things that have occurred under President Jenkins’ tenure. Our state has a lot of challenges, with declining population, declining businesses, and all these things affect enrollment, and they affect other industries, as well. So it’s a challenge that we as a state must work towards solving, not only West Virginia State University.”