End of the Road for Lambuth U.

After a long struggle to survive, board announces that institution has run out of options. But Paul Quinn finds a path to survival with a new accreditor.
April 15, 2011

Lambuth University, a Methodist institution in western Tennessee, will end operations in June. The university, founded in 1843, has struggled financially for several years and lost its accreditation last year.

Also this week, Paul Quinn College, a Christian, historically black college in Texas that looked endangered when it lost its accreditation, announced that it has a new accreditor -- a huge milestone in Paul Quinn's efforts to rebound from financial problems.

The Struggle at Lambuth

Lambuth has for a long time operated without wealth, but the extent of its financial problems first became public in the summer of 2008, when the university called off planned raises and three vice presidents resigned. At that time, the college's enrollment was about 750, and officials said that they would need it to grow to 1,000 for the college to survive economically.

In the months that followed, however, the university slid further, with payroll not always being made on time, and student numbers continuing to dwindle, to roughly 400 today. The university at various times talked about alliances with for-profit entities that might create and market distance education programs, but those programs didn't take off.

Then last year the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools revoked Lambuth's accreditation. It is impossible for most colleges -- especially those with finances similar to Lambuth's -- to function without accreditation, because students can receive federal financial aid only if they are enrolled at accredited institutions. Lambuth has been able to hold on to accreditation pending a likely legal battle. But the college was still running out of money.

The board issued a statement in which it said that the decision to close was based on "the current financial situation of the university," and that officials would work to help current students graduate or find places to transfer.

While Lambuth will soon cease to exist, officials said that they hoped that the university's campus could become part of another university -- and that Jackson, Tenn., would thus not lose its local university. The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported that the University of Memphis, a public institution, reached out to Lambuth's board this week about ways Memphis might use the Lambuth campus to offer programs in the area. The Jackson Sun reported that the Lambuth board is in discussions with Memphis and two other colleges about turning over the campus.

Paul Quinn Survives

While Lambuth's supporters received bad news this week, those who are devoted to Paul Quinn College are celebrating.

SACS revoked Paul Quinn's accreditation in 2009, and the college has ever since been appealing and taking its case to court -- preserving its accreditation pending the outcomes of those efforts. But at the same time, Paul Quinn started the process of seeking recognition from another accreditor and this week announced that it had received accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

Michael Sorrell, Paul Quinn's president, has been credited (even by SACS officials) with significantly improving the college's financial strength (even if SACS didn't believe he had gone far enough). Sorrell rallied alumni and other supporters to raise money for the college as it tried to find a way to stay accredited. Sorrell's message on Twitter after the news that the college had found a new accreditor: "Quinnite Nation- Stop and smile today. You've earned it. Love, Prez."

For those who love Lambuth, Thursday's messages were quite different. Wrote one alumna on the university's Facebook page: "My heart is breaking. What a wonderful, special place. I can't believe that it will no longer be."


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