Grambling Wins Back Accreditation
University also launches national search for permanent president
By Scott Dyer BATON ROUGE, La.
Grambling State University overcame financial problems to win back its accreditation at the December meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
“The cloud has finally been lifted,” Grambling State’s Interim President Neari Warner said after getting the official word that the school had been taken off probation by the accrediting agency.
The loss of accreditation would have been devastating to Grambling because it would have meant the school’s students could no longer receive Pell Grants, federal loans and other forms of federal aid.
Warner estimated that 97 percent of Grambling’s students are on Pell Grants or some other form of federal aid.
In addition, Warner noted that the loss of accreditation would have translated into a loss of credibility for the 102-year-old university.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had placed Grambling on
probation in 2001 because of extended financial record-keeping problems. At its annual meeting the following year, the accrediting agency acknowledged Grambling had made substantial progress in addressing its problems, but declined to lift the probation.
Shortly after the probation was finally lifted last month, the associate executive director for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, David Carter, acknowledged that Grambling’s progress during its second year of probation was more striking than the first.
“The university’s improvement in the first year of probation was significant, but the progress over the past year has been appreciably better. We can now say that Grambling State University is a member in good standing with no conditions,” Carter said.
Warner said she was optimistic going into the meeting because Grambling had received high marks during a visit by an accrediting team last fall.
“We have put into place all the things that we’ve been asked to do (by SACS), and as we worked through those issues, we found some other things to be done, so we did those too,” Warner said.
“This whole process has been one that has really, we believe, strengthened the university so it will continue to operate efficiently and effectively, not only in finance, but also in academics, student services and enrollment,” she added.
Most of the problems started in 1998, when records were lost during a conversion to a new computer system.
The school’s financial records were in such disarray that state legislative auditors could not audit its books.
As the record-keeping problems continued, Grambling President Steve Favors resigned from his post under pressure in January of 2001. Warner was appointed interim president.
One of Warner’s first steps was to hire some financial expertise. She recruited Billy Owens, who was working as the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s chief financial officer, to serve as Grambling’s financial vice president.
Owens was allowed to assemble his own staff, and was provided the resources to hire top workers.
Under Owens’ leadership, Grambling’s lost records were restored, and the
school was able to get its first clean audit in nearly five years.
While Owens was cleaning up the financial mess, Warner took steps to repair the damage to the school’s reputation. During the summer of 2002, Warner wrote letters to nearly 5,000 students to dispel rumors that the school was on the verge of shutting down.
Enrollment at Grambling has progressively decreased since 1993, when it
enrolled 7,833 students.
When Warner took over as the school’s interim president in early 2001, enrollment had fallen to 4,500 students.
Between 1993 and 2001, Grambling’s faculty decreased by 30 percent, compared to the 43 percent drop in enrollment.
Warner said she was stunned to learn that during the same period, the number of non-faculty staff increased by nearly 20 percent. Warner responded by laying off more than 100 staffers in the fall of 2001.
“We had to make this bold move because our agenda is Grambling State University,” Warner said.
University of Louisiana System President Sally Clausen applauded the efforts of Warner, Owens and his staff, the UL system board and others that helped to make Grambling’s turnaround a priority.
“This truly is a classic American story in which hard work achieved positive results,” Clausen said.
But Clausen also was a major factor in Grambling’s turnaround. When Clausen was hired in 2001, she was charged with getting Grambling back on solid footing. Clausen oversaw Grambling’s progress, and repeatedly pulled strings to provide the funding and resources that Grambling needed to get back on solid financial ground.
“We’ll take some time to savor the accomplishment, but we’ll continue to move forward. Our next priority will be naming a permanent president for Grambling,” Clausen said.
The UL system board last week appointed a committee to launch a national search for a permanent Grambling president.
Warner said she has not yet decided whether to apply for the job.
Founded in 1901 as a private industrial school to educate African American citizens in northern Louisiana, Grambling is a comprehensive university offering undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education programs.
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