The president of Paul Quinn College posted a blog item on Sunday, asking all of the institution's supporters to pray for it on Wednesday at 10:45 a.m. -- the hour that a delegation would make the college's case to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. On Thursday, the college found out that its prayers were not answered.
SACS announced that it had ended Paul Quinn's membership in the organization, meaning that within about 10 days of official notification -- barring an appeals process -- the college will be without accreditation. For just about any college, such a loss could be devastating as students can receive federal aid only if they are enrolled at accredited institutions. At Paul Quinn, almost all students receive federal aid and need that assistance to enroll.
The move by SACS -- which follows years of scrutiny of Paul Quinn and its finances -- is one of several decisions involving historically black colleges. SACS, which has the job of assuring the educational quality and financial stability of the colleges it accredits, operates in a region with most of the nation's historically black colleges.
At the same meeting where SACS revoked Paul Quinn's accreditation, the association also placed two historically black colleges on "warning" status: Tougaloo College and Florida Memorial University. And two historically black colleges received good news from the association: Dillard University and Texas Southern University were removed from "probation" status, which is worse than "warning," but still means that an institution is accredited.
SACS also took action against other colleges this week -- placing on probation both South Louisiana Community College and Lambuth University -- but the Paul Quinn case is likely to attract the most attention, as that involves an actual refusal to accredit. Belle S. Wheelan, president of the SACS Commission on Colleges, said that the key violations of association standards by Paul Quinn involved finances and institutional effectiveness.
She stressed that the association's standards are well known and that she meets with black college presidents to talk about issues they may face and how to meet the various SACS tests. In the case of Paul Quinn, she said that SACS officials had many meetings with the college about its situation. Many advocates for Paul Quinn have said that its new president, Michael J. Sorrell, has turned things around, and Wheelan acknowledged that there has been progress.
"Paul Quinn has had difficulties for many years," she said. "They have a new president who came in and unfortunately he didn't have but two years to change all the things that needed to be changed. He had too much to be done and couldn't get it all done."
Sorrell said that the college will definitely appeal. He declined to discuss specific grounds for the appeal, saying he would provide more information at a press conference today. But in a recent column in The Dallas Morning News, which followed a report that Paul Quinn has failed Education Department tests of financial stability, Sorrell outlined recent successes in enrollment and financial management.
In an interview Thursday, Sorrell said that the college would fight to stay alive -- and that it was not wise to judge it on the basis of its wealth (or lack thereof). "This is the reality," he said. "These are economically difficult times. Historically black colleges exist to serve a student population that wouldn't have the means to go to school otherwise. Many of the black colleges will never have large endowments, but that really isn't the purpose to the institutions. We exist to serve population that needs us. There is a very real need for Paul Quinn College."