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Shaw University builds off of legacy with an eye toward transformation — for students and the institution

Shaw University is a private university based in Raleigh. The university serves over 1,300 undergraduate students annually. Shaw’s rich history includes the noteworthy fact that it was the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to offer courses in the southern United States. 

Dr. Paulette Dillard, the university’s president, welcomed us to the campus by reminding us that the university’s history and current mission are interwoven.

“Shaw’s mission drives us,” Dillard declared in her opening remarks. “We were formed in the last year of the American Civil War — and we are now the oldest degree-bearing HBCU in the South. This provides us with an amazing legacy.”

Shaw University has been called the “mother of African American colleges” in North Carolina, as North Carolina Central University, Elizabeth City State University, and Fayetteville State University all had founding presidents who were Shaw alumni. The founder of Livingstone College spent his first two college years at Shaw before transferring to Lincoln University. What became North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University was located on Shaw’s campus during its first year according to Dillard and the University.

Shaw’s history extends to being the first HBCU to become co-educational and accept women as students.

“We’re responsible for providing graduates who are core to the social fabric of the nation,” Dillard said. “We educate teachers, preachers, and social workers.”

Today, Shaw offers 22 undergraduate degrees in a variety of fields including:

  • Education: Early childhood development, birth-kindergarten education, elementary education
  • Business: Accounting, business administration
  • Social Work, Sociology & Justice Studies: Social work, sociology, sociology in criminal justice

The institution also offers four masters programs, with three of the four being offered by the divinity program.

Moving forward with innovation — and a focus on students

Shaw University is not relying on its rich history and legacy to guarantee its future.

“We’re not going to run from our history,” Dillard explained. “We’re centered on the academy. We will continue to focus on recruiting, retaining, graduating, and preparing students for their career.”

Ultimately, Dillard noted this focus on academic and student success requires an investment in technology.

“We are going to take all of our programs and become the the regional leader in imbuing technological skills into the DNA of our courses and our students.”

Dr. Paulette Dillard, president of Shaw University

Dr. Ashton Cleveland, vice president for student affairs, led us though their new approach to student case management. Cleveland said the goal for this new approach is simple: “We are developing ways for our students and their professors to engage on a regular basis. Developing these closer relationships will help to support students with their career goals and life goals creating.”

The new focus for Shaw will include a robust data dashboard and “Coffee with a Prof.” Cleveland said Coffee with a Prof will focus on improving student engagement by connecting students to professors who will have a conversation focused on career and life goals.

All of this work runs alongside comprehensive student supports, including additional in-person tutoring, 24/7 online tutoring services in all subjects, and peer-to-peer tutoring where honor students work to provide tutoring for other students who need help. 

Cleveland said the size of the institution and the faculty-to-student ratio will allow Shaw to build both a data-driven and student-focused culture that will work hand in hand for student success.

Shaw also offers summer bridge programs that offer seven hours of course credit to aid in personal and academic transitions to college.

Shaw is focused on six strategic priorities as they look to the future:

  • Enhance institution-wide infrastructure to support the university’s mission and business ambitions. 
  • Optimize academic and operational processes to increase institution-wide efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • Improve student retention, time to graduation, and career readiness. 
  • Develop new local, national, and global strategic partnerships that increase faculty effectiveness and engagement, diversity, and student success. 
  • Create diversified revenue streams in order to drive the business process and support the university’s mission. 
  • Increase marketing presence with refined brand identity and value proposition. 

All of this work requires resources — and that is where Shaw’s bold real estate strategy comes into play.

Creating the ShawU district — and securing Shaw’s future

Shaw University’s campus sits on 28 acres of prime real estate in downtown Raleigh. Shaw University is the largest private landowner in downtown Raleigh. 

Kevin Sullivan leads a walking tour of Shaw University describing the future development of the campus. Photo courtesy of Bridgette Cyr.

As you walk through campus, you can see cranes in the distance as new buildings are going up across the city. Raleigh is a rapidly growing city nestled within a rapidly growing region — and this creates an opportunity for Shaw.

Kevin Sullivan, the vice president for real estate and strategic development for Shaw was clear about the unique opportunities that are available to the University going forward. 

The college is working to leverage this land and launch the “ShawU District.” 

“Shaw’s campus is a centrally located place in the middle of Raleigh,” Sullivan said. “And with the right development strategy, it can become an important place to Raleigh.”

In the short term, Shaw is working to rezone the campus to allow for the both the development of commercial real estate and to develop the campus, so we support the needs of the community. It is our vision that the eventual development would include restaurants, a pharmacy, a grocery store, urgent care, and even childcare. 

Our long-term goal, according to Sullivan, is to develop real estate properties that align with the mission and vision of the college and its partners in the community — while also providing the needed resources for the college to thrive moving forward.

Nation Hahn

Nation Hahn is the chief of growth for EducationNC.