That was the message delivered Monday to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville by Edward Waters College President Nat Glover.
He said EWC, founded in 1866, is not only Jacksonville’s oldest college and its only historically black college, it’s also the oldest independent institution of higher learning in Florida.
“We serve a diverse student population and prepare our students for the global economy,” Glover said. “We have gone from educating freed slaves to educating students who can go anywhere.”
Jacksonville needs an HBC, Glover said, because among African-American students, 50 percent of teachers and 60 percent of professionals – including 70 percent of dentists and physicians – received their degrees from an HBC.
While America is the land of opportunity, half of the public school students in Jacksonville are on free or reduced price lunch programs and 98 percent of the students attending EWC receive some form of financial aid.
Including tuition, fees and room and board, a college education costs about $21,000 per year. Glover said the cost of college is out of reach for many students, so maintaining the availability of financial aid is an investment in the future.
“We have a rising population of lower and middle class in this city and this country. This generation probably will live to be 100 years old. We need to get them ready to be productive, tax-paying, revenue-producing citizens and not dependent on social programs,” Glover said. “It’s a pay me now or pay me later deal.”
Glover, who in 2011 became EWC’s 29th president, is an alumnus of the college. He said he can relate to the challenges facing students and admitted he had little interest in going to college after high school.
Fortunately, he had the opportunity to play football in his senior year in high school. That led to an athletic scholarship to attend EWC.
Glover said he was given three requirements when he enrolled.
“I had to get to work, play football good enough to stay on the team and clean a public restroom every day,” he said.
The restroom was across the hall from the president’s office. Glover said he thinks about that every day and the journey he made from cleaning the restroom to being president of the college.
One of the jobs of president is to make sure the community understands the importance of supporting EWC. Visibility can be an issue.
“Too often, I hear people say they didn’t know the school is here or that the school had some problems,” Glover said. “All schools go through problems. I’m here now and we’re moving forward.”
Last semester, 854 students were enrolled at EWC. Glover said his goal is to have at least 1,000 members of the student body in 2015. Another goal is to have more local students.
“We only have a couple of hundred students from Jacksonville, It should be higher than that,” he said.
The presentation wasn’t without a bit of levity. When attorney Hank Coxe introduced Glover, he recalled how he met the future college president years ago as opponents in a city basketball league.
“I had incredible shooting ability and he was … huge,” said Coxe. “I told him he was extremely effective for someone who had no talent.”
Jacksonville’s oldest institution of higher learning plays an important in the community and needs to be supported as much as any local college or university.