Southern Accreditor Places 2 on Probation, Backs VCU in Degree Scandal

Regional association cites Alabama A&M and Webber International for financial shortcomings, lifts sanction against Texas Tech, and says Virginia Commonwealth has responded adequately to scandal.

December 10, 2008

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed two colleges on probation and continued four others on that status at its meeting this week, its president said. The regional accreditor also lifted its probation against Texas Tech University, saying it had made progress in assessing student learning outcomes.

And the regional accrediting agency's Commission on Colleges also contemplated action but decided not to impose any punishment on Virginia Commonwealth University, concluding that the university had taken adequate steps to respond to a degree-granting scandal last spring.

Belle S. Wheelan, president of the accrediting group, said Tuesday that its Commission on Colleges had cited Alabama A&M University, a public, historically black four-year college, and Webber International University, a private nonprofit business college in Florida, for failing to comply with the accreditor's criteria related to finances. Alabama A&M has been in turmoil, with its governing board firing its president last spring amid a series of allegations of financial impropriety. Both institutions will be on probation for 12 months.

Wheelan said that SACS had kept four other colleges on probation for another year: Texas Southern University (for a series of financial issues), Virginia Intermont College (for concerns about finances and institutional effectiveness), Louisburg College (for finances) and Fundacion Universidad de las Americas Puebla (for a wide variety of problems).

The association also issued warnings to Eastfield College for problems related to the adequacy of its faculty; South Carolina State University, for five separate violations tied in part to the university's governing board and athletics; and Warner University and Miami International University of Art and Design, both for failures tied to faculty qualifications.

Texas Tech said Tuesday that the accreditor had lifted its 12-month probation imposed a year ago against the university. “I am pleased that the probation has been lifted,” Guy Bailey, Texas Tech's president, said in a statement. “During the past year, a number of people have worked extremely hard to put in place an assessment process that will provide meaningful data on our general education courses. We were able to develop the assessment and meet the SACS evidence requirement in a timely fashion."

Wheelan said that the Southern association had also reviewed the situation at Virginia Commonwealth University, where the chief of police in Richmond was improperly awarded a degree. The commission found that Virginia Commonwealth had taken adequate steps in the wake of the scandal to put safeguards in place to ensure that the problem did not recur, and chose not to punish the university.

The accreditor also did not weigh in on whether the university should rescind the degree. "We did not ask for the degree back, because that's not our purview," Wheelan said.

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