The short answer is that it was the only option. "Considering what the university brought to us, it’s a way to save Homecoming. If you check the last three years, the dynamic of Homecoming has been changed with bigger artists being recruited instead of emerging artists. That put Homecoming in jeopardy," says junior telecommunications management major and Yardfest Coordinator Courtney Howard. "[The university] knows that Yardfest is the biggest Homecoming event, so the way to save Homecoming was to charge for it."
Senior public relations major and Homecoming Marketing & Media Relations Manager Jenelle Coy says this change is motivated by the need to produce a profit. "Yardfest being the biggest event, we absolutely have to make revenue from it. We have all of these artists come in, we have 70 to 80 media representatives attend Homecoming; 2 Chainz might put a video up, T.I. might put a webisodeup, but what does that do for us as far as streams of revenue?" Coy explained.
This is not meant to paint Howard’s administration as inept on a School Daze-esque level, but rather to illustrate how the Homecoming staff was presented a difficult situation. It's like taking over a losing team and being expected to win a championship the following year. So rather than risk ruining Homecoming with a disappointing Yardfest or worse, no Yardfest, they did what they could.
According to the Homecoming Steering Committee, school administration presented them with an uncomfortable scenario that they tried to make the best of. "Homecoming is a major expense and we have to cover that in some way. Whether it was charging for Yardfest or charging $300 for the Erykah Badu concert, it has to be made up for in some shape, form or fashion. I think this was the most convenient way to do it," Coy said. In other words, don't shoot the messengers.
Discussion about the need for the university to make money from Homecoming this year all but reinforced many students, faculty and alumni’s worst fears: that the school was struggling financially. The fear was sparked by an April letter from board of trustees vice chair Renee Higginbotham-Brooks leaked to the Chronicle of Higher Education in June which claimed that the university "will not be here in three years" due to financial mismanagement. How could Howard, widely recognized as the most prestigious historically black college and university, be in budget trouble? Mind you, this is the same institution that welcomed Oprah as its commencement speaker in 2007 and Bill Clinton this past May.
"I can no longer sit quietly, notwithstanding my personal preference to avoid confrontation, and therefore, I am compelled to step forward to announce that our beloved university is in genuine trouble and 'time is of the essence,'" she wrote. Administrators rushed to ease the panic, with board chairman Addison Rand insisting that the letter "[painted] an unduly alarming picture" of the state of the university "without proper context." Instead, Rand pointed to budget cuts as the source of Howard’s issues, which are intensified by the high expenses of Howard University Hospital.
University president Sidney Ribeau dismissed the accusations this past summer, saying "there is not any kind of mismanagement administratively or financially that is damaging the university." Ribeau, Howard's president since 2008, abruptly stepped down from his position at the beginning of this month.
This is not meant to paint Howard’s administration as inept on a School Daze-esque level, but rather to illustrate how the Homecoming staff was presented a difficult situation. It's like taking over a losing team and being expected to win a championship the following year. So rather than risk ruining Homecoming with a disappointing Yardfest or worse, no Yardfest, they did what they could. Turning water into Ciroc is no easy task. But students and alumni accustomed to the free experience aren't interested in hearing about how Yardfest will "only" cost $5. Backlash to the news was anticipated.