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The Higher Learning Commission placed Wheeling University in West Virginia on probation after concluding that the institution does not meet two accreditation criteria and that it meets four more, but with concern.

Wheeling University is the former Wheeling Jesuit University, a Roman Catholic institution that has made deep cuts amid financial pressure in recent years. It has also faced significant leadership turmoil.

Now the university must demonstrate that it has addressed several issues by July 2022 in order to maintain the support of its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission. The accreditor will hold an on-site evaluation by September of that year, followed by the accreditor’s Board of Trustees determining whether it is appropriate to remove the probation in February 2023.

The Higher Learning Commission disclosed the probation in a March 5 notice. The move was effective Feb. 25.

Wheeling does not meet a criterion requiring its resource base to support its educational programs, the accreditor found. In part, that’s because the university declared financial exigency in 2019, according to a letter the Higher Learning Commission’s president, Barbara Gellman-Danley, sent Wheeling’s president, Ginny Favede. It is also in part because the university’s critical planning documents “contain exceedingly optimistic targets for critical indices of fiscal health” and because it has heavily relied on the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston for financial support. Wheeling was able to meet a key financial indicator largely by booking $5 million in gifts receivable from the diocese as assets, the accreditor’s letter said.

The Higher Learning Commission also found that the university failed to meet a criterion requiring it to engage in systematic and integrated planning, noting that the university’s new strategic plan is very similar to a plan from 2012 and that both plans “suffer from the same overly ambitious enrollment-related targets.”

Wheeling met several of the accreditor’s criteria, but with concerns: on governing board autonomy, ongoing assessment of student learning, working systematically to improve performance, and attention to retention, persistence and completion rates.

In addition, the university requires monitoring related to federal compliance requirements for the Title IV program, and it requires monitoring related to its standing with other accrediting agencies.

The university welcomes the opportunity to improve and has already started to address the accreditor’s concerns, it said in a news release.

“Setting our financial house in order and reassuring our students, our alumni, and the people of our region that Wheeling University will continue to be here for them, have been the top priorities of my administration,” Favede said in a statement. “I am proud that my team has taken steps to put Wheeling on firmer footing, while continuing to develop new ways to improve the experience of our students, while serving the interests of our community.”

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