Paul Quinn Loses Accreditation

If decision is not reversed on appeal, the historically black college's students would lose eligibility for federal aid that most of them need to enroll.
June 26, 2009

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."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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