St. Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina is appealing the most severe of sanctions after the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools acted Thursday to revoke the college’s accreditation for financial reasons. Also at its Thursday meeting -- detailed in a summary released Tuesday -- the Southern association issued a warning to two other institutions, placed four on probation and extended another college’s probation period for six months.
Tom Benberg, vice president and chief of staff for the Southern association, declined to comment on the details of the financial troubles found at St. Andrews due to the pending appeal (St. Andrews, which the accrediting agency first placed on warning in June 2005 and then on probation six months later in December of that year, maintains its probationary accreditation status as the appeals process unfolds). The college was cited for failure to comply with requirements surrounding financial resources, financial stability and control of finances.
If a decision to revoke a college's accreditation is ultimately upheld, the institution loses access to federal financial aid funds and the stream of students that that money makes possible. At St. Andrews, 68 percent of students receive federal aid.
St. Andrews’s president, Paul Baldasare, said Tuesday that while he had not yet received a letter from the Southern association explaining the reasons behind its action, his understanding is that the concerns stem from the college’s practice of funding its expansion plans -- a growth of enrollment from 612 students four years ago to 1,100 by 2011 – by borrowing money. The college, which had 808 students this fall and an endowment of about $14 million, is carrying a $15 to $16 million debt, all incurred to fund improvement initiatives undertaken within the past five years, Baldasare said.
“Our goal was to make improvements on things that would have the greatest impact on the greatest number of students, all geared toward improving retention and increasing student recruitment,” Baldasare said Tuesday. For instance, a new equestrian center opened in 2003 -- St. Andrews offers several equine-related majors -- has proven to be a boon for enrollment. “We probably have 250 students on campus who have some interest in some shape or form in things equestrian; many of those probably wouldn’t have come” without the investment, Baldasare said.
The college has also made improvements to the residence halls and student center, and has borrowed to increase operating expenditures as enrollment has risen. College statistics show that net revenues rose by 69 percent in the past four years, during which time the college also completed a $36 million fund raising campaign.
St. Andrews has been on the Southern association's probation list before, back in the 1990s. But Baldasare -- who said the college’s Board of Trustees has authorized the institution to pursue legal action if its appeal fails -- argued Tuesday that the college has never been in better shape. “You can feel it in the hallways and talking to faculty that we’re in the strongest, most vital period we’ve ever been in,” he said.
Among other actions Thursday, the association:
- Placed Florida A&M University; Paul Quinn College and the Criswell College, both in Texas; and Virginia Intermont College, on probation.
- Continued probation for Bishop State Community College, in Alabama, which was first placed on probation in December.
- Placed Coahoma Community College, in Mississippi, and Dillard University, in Louisiana, on warning.
And, on a more positive note, the Southern association:
- Removed Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, in North Carolina; South College, in Tennessee; and Southwest Texas Junior College and Southwestern Adventist University, both in Texas, from warning status.