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Newest Leader Of South Florida's Historically Black University Plans Expansion

Jessica Bakeman
Jaffus Hardrick is the interim president of Florida Memorial University, the only historically black university in South Florida. He was a top administrator at the public Florida International University for a decade before taking on the new position.

The new leader of Florida Memorial University wants to triple the school's enrollment, at a time when some other historically black institutions are losing students, facing threats to their accreditation status and even closing their doors.

Jaffus Hardrick assumed the interim presidency last July, at the time becoming the third leader in two years at the small, private university in Miami Gardens.

"The university experienced significant, high turnover in leadership — in presidents and interims. … But I'm here to try to bring stability to the institution and to transform the institution," Hardrick said during a recent interview with WLRN.

Hardrick hopes the job will become permanent.

Before coming to Florida Memorial, Hardrick spent a decade as a top administrator at the public Florida International University. He wants to expand his new school from about 1,100 students now to between 3,000 and 3,500.

He plans to do that by adding new undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as "micro-credentials," like certificates, for working people who want to advance their skills.

"We will be doing a lot of that online," he said.

Hardrick is also interested in ramping up international recruitment — students from other countries already make up 40 percent of enrollment, he said — and bringing in more transfers. He wants to create summer programs for middle- and high-school students, which could inspire them to attend the school in the future. Further, he suggested doing outreach to specific populations of underserved students, like those who are in Native American tribes or are homeless.

Florida Memorial is South Florida's only historically black higher education institution. Although the last two years saw an uptick in enrollment at historically black colleges and universities nationwide, there have been more troubling enrollment trends over the last decade.

Some HBCUs have struggled with financial or governance challenges that have led them to lose accreditation or close. In Daytona Beach, the private, historically black Bethune Cookman University is embroiled in a financial scandal involving the loss of millions of dollars over a bad deal for a new dormitory. The interim president there has cited its financial situation as an "existential threat." And the school is on probation as far as its accreditation.

Hardrick pledged to make sound financial decisions to ensure Florida Memorial remains in good standing, economically and educationally.

"When you think about Bethune Cookman and those institutions, some of the financial challenges came as a result of, just, honestly, some poor decision making as it relates to some of the contracts," he said.

"And that's what I will not do here at Florida Memorial," he said. "We will operate at the highest level of integrity and transparency."

Jessica Bakeman is senior editor for news at WLRN, South Florida's NPR member station. Previously, Bakeman served as WLRN's education reporter for four years. Bakeman was awarded the 2020 Journalist of the Year award from the Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.