Four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), including financially troubled Fisk University, had their accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) reaffirmed for another 10 years Tuesday.
The 77-member SACS board took the action during its winter meeting this week in Atlanta. In addition to Fisk, SACS reaffirmed accreditation for Florida A&M, Kentucky State and North Carolina Central universities.
SACS, which sets standards of performance for hundreds of colleges across the South, also removed two HBCUs-Alabama A & M and Florida Memorial universities – from warning status. In addition, SACS approved “substantive” program changes proposed by South Carolina State and Fayetteville State universities.
Texas Southern University, site of a financial scandal in its administration several years ago, had its accreditation continued by SACS for “good cause.” However, SACS officials placed the popular school on probation for six months, citing its continuing need to resolve several outstanding financial management issues.
FAMU president James H. Ammons cheered the SACS decision involving his North Florida school, one that nearly lost its standing with the group this time two years ago amid questions about its leadership and financial stability.
“Two years ago scathing financial audits hinted toward fiscal instability and uncertainty at FAMU,” Ammons said in a statement released late Tuesday. “We have met our challenges, completed the accrediting process and are focusing our energies on creating a 21st Century Learning Center second to none. We have been through some challenging times and it is ironic that at the SACS annual meeting this year we were the presenters this time, telling others how to weather the storm. I can truly say that achieving this milestone was a team effort and confirms the academic and administrative strength of the university,” said Ammons, who joined FAMU in 2007 as part of an effort to right the school’s fortunes. FAMU, a member of the SACS Commission on Colleges since 1935, was the first HBCU to become a member of SACS.
The SACS decision was especially great news for Fisk, a small, private college whose star among HBCUs has dimmed somewhat during much of this decade because of heavy turnover of its leadership, falling enrollment and declining financial support.
Fisk has also stirred controversy over its attempts since 2004 to raise badly needed funds by selling part interest in its valuable collection of art and photographs donated by the late artist Georgia O’Keefe. Fisk wants a court to grant it permission to set aside agreements between the school and O’Keefe dating to the late 1940s and grant the school sole control of the collection, a legal standing it would need before sharing any part of the collection. That matter is still pending in the state courts of Tennessee.
Had Fisk lost its accreditation, it would have made fundraising much tougher among foundations and other private donors. It would also have significantly reduced the chances Fisk could get federal student aid funds for its students, as schools must be accredited in order to receive federal student aid monies. SACS is the accrediting body the federal government looks to for guidance on such matters for colleges and universities – public and private – in the South.
For all three schools, the SACS decision helps them clear a high hurdle for which they have spent several years preparing to face. In making its decisions, the board of the SACS Commission on Colleges assesses the governance of a school and its effectiveness, a school’s programs, professional and financial resources and whether a school is upholding its responsibilities to emulate Commission policies. Fisk supporters have worried for months the school’s shaky financial state might pose a problem in its bid for reaffirmation. A site committee of the SACS board visited Fisk last spring. Such visits are routine parts of a review leading to a final board vote.
Fisk University spokesman Ken West said the school planned to issue a statement Wednesday regarding the SACS decision. Others, associated with the historic school in Nashville, also withheld public comment pending receipt of some official word from SACS and Fisk President Hazel O’Leary. Privately, however, they hailed the SACS decision.
“It’s great news from a fundraising perspective,” said one Fisk official, who declined to speak more or for attribution, pending receipt of an official notice from SACS and O’Leary.
Kentucky State President Dr. Mary Evans Sias said in a statement: “The decision to reaffirm Kentucky State University’s accreditation confirms our commitment to providing quality programs so our students are well prepared to compete in a challenging, global society. … I look forward to many more years of preparing and inspiring students who desire to achieve success for themselves, their families and their communities.”
At NCCU, Chancellor Dr. Charlie Nelms issued a brief statement saying he was “very pleased that the Commission reaffirmed our accreditation.”