Back From the Brink

Southern regional agency restores accreditation of Brewton-Parker College, while Norfolk State and four Education Management campuses draw scrutiny.

December 10, 2014

Six months ago, Brewton-Parker College faced an existential threat: the stripping of its accreditation by the college commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which cited the Georgia institution's failure to meet its requirements regarding financial stability and controls.

The college filed an appeal (and threatened a lawsuit, too), which the accrediting commission considered and rejected. (The only grounds on which an appeal can be successful is if the accreditor failed to follow its procedures or acted in an unfair manner, neither of which was true in the situation, the commission ruled.)

But the association's appeals process also allows an institution to bring forward additional or new information relevant to the finding against it -- in this case, Brewton-Parker's financial woes.

College officials presented evidence that Brewton-Parker "has sufficient financial resources to meet its obligations and its mission, is financially stable, is in control of its finances, and complies with its Title IV program responsibilities to the United States Department of Education," according to a statement on the college's website. That evidence persuaded the commission's board that the college should not only be reinstated, but also removed from probation.

"The process that Brewton-Parker College has endured over the past four years shows that the [accreditation] system works," President Ergun Caner said. "Brewton-Parker College is a better and much stronger institution today.”

The Southern accreditor also removed another institution, Newberry College of South Carolina, from probation.

Other institutions had a different fate.

SACS formally withdrew the accreditation of Midcontinent University, which ended instruction in June but sought to retain its accreditation nonetheless, said Belle S. Wheelan, the accrediting association's president.

Three other institutions were placed on probation. The highest-profile of them is Norfolk State University, in Virginia, which has been enveloped in financial and other woes since before the August 2013 firing of its president, Tony Atwater. Last fall then-Gov. Bob McDonnell sought to replace some members of the university's board.

The accreditor cited Norfolk State for a laundry list of violations of its requirements and standards, including provisions related to stability and control of its finances, the adequacy of its full-time faculty, how board members are dismissed, the faculty role in governance, and a lack of differentiation between its board and administration, among numerous other things.

SACS also placed Emmanuel Christian Seminary and Erskine College on probation.

Four campuses that are part of the Education Management Corporation also received a warning from the accreditor, related to the financial restructuring of its parent company.


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