Fisk University Campaign Falls Short

Fisk University, faced with persistent questions about its financial condition and future viability, ended its fiscal year June 30 with a balanced budget, although the university’s enhanced annual fund raising drive this winter and spring fell far short of its widely publicized and admittedly ambitious goal, say higher education and Fisk sources familiar with the institution’s efforts.

Fisk raised roughly $3.8 million between January and the end of June, the university advised its alumni late last month in a letter. Fisk officials had said several times since the start of this calendar year that they wanted to raise $8 million by the end of June (the end of the university’s 2012 fiscal year) to meet current needs and help demonstrate to doubters the ailing university was viable.

“The environment is not receptive to Fisk at this point,” said a Fisk ally intimately involved in the most recent and past efforts to raise funds the once-prestigious Nashville-based liberal arts institution.

The Fisk ally and several others interviewed said the amount raised this year was less than that for the similar period a year ago, despite the stepped up fundraising effort, boosted with salary support from the Kresge Foundation for additional staffers.

Since January, Fisk has hired a new advancement officer and several assistants to expand its outreach. The team had an internal goal of $4 million. The expanded campaign this year included more calling to more people, creation of narrowly defined affinity groups of Fisk supporters and small fundraising events across the country, all making the case for boosted financial support for Fisk.

Fisk made no official comment regarding the latest snapshot of its finances and fundraising strength. A significant showing of long-term financial viability is one of the mandates Fisk must address by fall to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the major national higher education accrediting agency for colleges and universities in the South.

SACS, which has placed Fisk on probation, is set to decide in December whether to take additional punitive steps against the university which has repeatedly failed to win a clean bill of health from the agency in the university’s bid for reaffirmation of its accreditation. Reaffirmation by SACS would ensure Fisk would be able to qualify for federal funds for student support, a key source of income for the historic institution. Fisk is due to file a SACS “monitoring” report this fall. It will be used by SACS to arrive at its December decisions.

As Fisk officials tallied last minute contributions to its recent annual fundraising efforts aimed at keeping the university afloat, officials at Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va. were pondering that small, private college’s future in light of losing its accreditation last month from SACS.

Within days of the SACS decision, Saint Paul’s was being besieged by students seeking papers needed to transfer to other institutions. In a brief statement on its website, the college said it has a “transition committee in place to help those students who choose to start the transfer of their studies and credits to other schools.”

Saint Paul’s, which graduated about 80 students this spring, had an enrollment last school year of about 400 students. 

Meanwhile, Saint Paul’s said in a separate statement, it had retained Richmond attorney Ashley L. Taylor to advise the college’s board of trustees on its appeal of the SACS decision, handling its  “fiduciary” responsibilities and weighing its “options” The statement said the school was exploring partnerships, mergers with other institutions or seeking accreditation for some other “government-recognized” accrediting agencies.

In the latter context, several small colleges that have found themselves dropped by SACS (an agency considered to have the higher accreditation standards in the region), have applied to and been accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TACCS), a smaller, younger accrediting agency that focuses on institutions of higher learning “whose mission is characterized by a distinctively Christian purpose.” Paul Quinn College, a small historically Black college in Texas, was accredited by TACCS after losing its standing with SACS.

St. Paul’s a 124-year-old school affiliated with the Episcopal Church, has been on a slide for several decades, running through a series of presidents, losing enrollment and financial backers. Like Fisk, it had been on SACS probation for a variety of reasons ranging for questions about its faculty staffing to financial viability.

Since last November, under the leadership of interim president Eddie N. Moore Jr., St. Paul’s had raised more than $4.7 million in hopes of addressing SACS’ concerns about the university’s financial viability.  A wealthy donor in Norfolk gave the college $1.5 million. Active alumni, 400 strong, raised about $50,000. A Wall Street supporter offered a 2 for 1 matching challenge. The national Episcopal Church sent an appeal letter to Episcopal congregations across the nation. The ambitious effort proved unsatisfactory, however, leaving school officials in a scramble.

Moore, a retired president of Virginia State University who had hoped to steer St. Paul’s to a return to good standing with SACS, stepped down at the end of June and was succeeded by Claud Flythe, a higher education veteran who joined St. Paul’s in January as chief of staff. Described as Moore’s “right hand man” during his career at Virginia State, Flythe served in a variety of capacities at that institution including Chief of Staff.

Flythe nor other St. Paul’s officials could be reached at the college late last week.