Chris Rey’s journey to becoming president of Barber-Scotia College seemed like it was merely fate.
Rey read a news story about the struggles of the historically Black college and reached out to see what resources he could provide the school.
Unbeknownst to him, the Board of Trustees was in the middle of a national search for a new president. His offer would be met with a bigger request: apply for the position.
“Remembering the words of my mentor John Lewis, I have a responsibility for my people, a responsibility for humanity to use my talents to make a difference, and so I said, ‘why not?’” the Spring Lake, N.C.- native told QCity Metro.
The college’s Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Rey to the position, according to a news release from the school, on July 6.
Why it matters: His appointment comes as the 156-year-old HBCU tries to regain the accreditation it lost in 2004 while simultaneously digging itself out of financial debt owed to the City of Concord.
Enrollment is next to nothing. As of last spring, a total of four students were enrolled and attended the school online, the Charlotte Observer reported.
In 2017, Concord officials created a task force to partner with the college to craft a revitalization plan, but after numerous disagreements with school leadership on the college’s direction, the task force was disbanded in March.
Rey said he understands the challenge he faces. He says his other leadership experience — retired veteran, former mayor of Spring Lake, NC, and current International President of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., among other occupations — has prepared him.
“I’m not afraid of the mountain [because] I’ve attacked a lot of mountains before. It’s just another mountain,” he said.
In a Q&A with QCity Metro, Rey discussed his plans for the school, including ways to increase funding, recruit students and regain its accreditation.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Can Barber-Scotia be saved? And if so, how?
It absolutely can be saved. This is like any mountain. It takes one step at a time. You take your tool, drive it into the rock, and pull yourself up one step at a time. As you’re doing that, you are making steady progress. Yes, this is a big mountain to climb, but I am in no way discouraged by the size of it
I believe that people are going to step up and that we are going to pay off the debt that the college owes to the City of Concord. I also believe we will have a huge storehouse of scholarship dollars waiting for the next generation of students to come here. In two to three years, we will take our rightful place as an accredited institution that will churn out the next generation of global leaders.
What is your plan to revitalize the school?
The Board of Trustees already has a plan, and I’m just coming in to execute it.
Our first step is to continue our Barber-Scotia Rising initiative that we just launched, which is a fundraising plan to raise $1 million by Dec. 31 to pay off our $480,000 debt to the city and maintain finances for operational costs.
Our next step is staffing, and I’ll announce the new staff we are hiring soon. We’ll be hiring a CFO, a provost, a new vice president of enrollment, and executive team members who will help in our accreditation process. We currently have more than 30 personnel on a waiting list to be faculty for the college.
The third piece is recruitment. We now have about 15 to 20 students in the pipeline for the fall [semester], but we still have to go through all the processes and look through applications. We hope to extend welcome letters on behalf of Barber-Scotia very soon.
Where is the school funding coming from?
Fundraising has been our main source of funding, but all of the contributions that the alumni have made have been the catalyst. My plan as president is to look at new funding sources, from new community partners, more corporate partners, and other government grants.
How have your current and previous leadership roles prepared you for the role you are taking on at Barber-Scotia?
Leadership development comes in so many different roles, but all of those experiences have been in the business of people. Running a college is no different because I’m in the business of people. Not only am I trying to create a great environment for faculty and staff to thrive, but I’m creating an environment for future scholars and their families to thrive and establish their legacy and their lineage.
How many students are living on campus?
None are currently living on campus.
We could have students on campus, but there’s a quality of life that you want. We’re not there yet. We have buildings we need to work on.
If we did have students in, we could have almost 200 students here if we wanted to. We have two dorms that can be utilized for living accommodations.
What recruiting strategies do you plan to employ to get more students interested in the school?
First and foremost, you lean on your alumni and let them know we’re back open for business. We want to connect with family and friends. I’m going to be doing some outreach for the local school system here in Cabarrus County and the other surrounding counties. We want to make sure that they know that Barber-Scotia is an option. We need them to come aboard to identify those students that they believe would be able to apply in the kind of requirement that we’re going to create.
Talks with Concord leaders haven’t panned out in recent years. How do you plan to rekindle that relationship?
I’m making my inroads in the community, having meetings with key leaders. I have written a letter to the mayor [of Concord] asking for a sit-down meeting. I haven’t received a response yet, but I want to make sure that they know that they have a friend in Barber-Scotia. I want them to know that I’m interested in building a long-term relationship with them and that the college wants to grow with the City of Concord.
How many majors does the school currently offer? Any new ones?
We currently offer three majors: religious studies, business with an emphasis on entrepreneurship, and renewable energy.
There are some other degree programs that we’re looking at. We are looking for certificate programs too.
How have Barber-Scotia alumni helped through this process?
We have committed alumni who have done an amazing job of supporting the school during the years when it didn’t seem like it was hopeful.
They have done an amazing job of helping to fundraise. We just completed the first fiscal year of our major fundraiser call, where alumni raised over $190,000 for the Leave Our Legacy Fund to help continue to support Barber-Scotia operations.
Have other HBCUs reached out to help? If so, what have they done?
Other college presidents have reached out to me to extend their support. Local HBCU alumni have offered their support as well. It’s been good.
And I’m encouraged about the future because what it tells me is that Barbar-Scotia is not alone in this journey.
For those who don’t believe Barber-Scotia can be restored to its previous glory, what do you say to them?
Simple, just watch us rise.
To support the Barber-Scotia Rising Initiative efforts, visit the school’s website.