Fisk University's new president wants to build more relationships in Nashville.
In a recent interview with WPLN, Kevin Rome said the historically black college has a positive reputation nationally, but locally it's battling its history of unstable leadership and financial troubles. That narrative that has long frustrated university officials, which says they have plenty to be proud of.
"Every meeting that I've gone to has typically started, 'We want Fisk to succeed. We want to help Fisk succeed. We just have to see what we're investing in,' " Rome said.
In order to win over potential donors or business support, he said, the school needs to become more relevant to the region.
"It's all about shared interests," Rome said. "We have to do what the other institutions, I think, have done well over the past few years. They've figured out what's needed. What are the leaders interested in? What are the leaders interested in investing in?"
For Fisk, this could include creating a degree program that would prepare students for a career in health care— something Rome believes that companies in Nashville would want to see, in part because the school would graduate a diverse group of potential employees.
Rome also wants to look into how the school can prepare students for tourism or technology jobs.
But new degree programs take money, as does updating old buildings and attracting top faculty. The school has been focusing heavily on alumni fundraising, which has paid off: Last year, it saw a nearly 28 percent increase in donations.
Fisk also needs more revenue coming in from tuition, Rome said. The school's enrollment has dropped to about 700 students this fall, compared to 850 students two years ago. Rome would like enrollment to exceed 2,000. It's an ambitious goal, but he pointed to Belmont University, a larger school that has nearly doubled in size over the past decade, as proof that it's possible with the right recruitment tactics.
"Our graduates go to the same places as any of the top schools in this country. We compare with the best of the best. I just think we have to get the message out to more people," he said.
"Also, we won't just recruit black students. We'll recruit Hispanic students, Caucasian students, Asian students. We have all those students currently, [but] we just have to increase our numbers."
These goals require long-term planning — which has been a problem at Fisk, where, since 1996, only one president has stayed longer than three years.
But Rome, who's 51 years old, said he plans to keep the job until he retires.
"In order to bring about the change that's needed, it's going to take longevity in the leadership," he said. "The things that we have to address won't be addressed in two or three years."