In Not So Good Company
Another HBCU loses its accreditation, but with new leadership Barber-Scotia College is meeting its challenges head on
By Tracie Powell
It’s not every day that a college president hand delivers a check to the city to clear up more than $75,000 in unpaid utility bills, but for Dr. Gloria Bromwell-Tinubu, the newly hired president of Barber-Scotia, it was one of her first orders of business when she took the helm of the historically Black college in July.
But even with the overdue utility bills now paid, Barber-Scotia faces an even more daunting task — regaining its accreditation.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) stripped the North Carolina college of its accreditation in June when Barber-Scotia revealed that it had awarded degrees to 27 students in the adult education program who hadn’t completed all of the requirements (see Black Issues, Aug. 12).
Before losing its accreditation, SACS placed the school on public warning for financial and institutional effectiveness issues. Ordinarily, the next step would have been for the college to be reviewed in December, but other problems arose that were significant enough to pull the school’s accreditation immediately.
“Students were graduating without receiving the proper coursework,” says Carol Luthman, associate director of SACS Commission on Colleges. “There is no worse grievance.”
Barber-Scotia officials initially announced they would fight their lost accreditation but decided otherwise after taking several things into account, not least of which was the cost of appealing.
It probably would have cost the school a minimum of $50,000 to wage an appeal — $15,000 just to file, plus attorney’s fees, Bromwell-Tinubu said. “For a small, limited- resource college like Barber-Scotia, it just didn’t make economic sense,” she adds.
A loss of accreditation means, among other things, that a school loses its ability to receive federal financial aid. About 90 percent of Barber-Scotia’s students depend on some sort of financial assistance for tuition.
Besides losing its accreditation, the 138-year-old college has been experiencing financial woes in recent years, as has been the case with other historically Black colleges and universities, most publicly and recently Morris Brown College in Atlanta (see Black Issues, Jan. 16, 2003). Barber-Scotia employees have complained to the state that they aren’t being paid in a timely manner and up until July, the college owed the city of Concord upward of $75,000 in unpaid utility bills.
Barber-Scotia failed to collect tuition and other fees from students which caused cash flow problems, spokeswoman Nora Carr said. Fund raising has also been an issue, she added.
“Debt collection has historically been an issue, as Barber-Scotia College has tried to give students and their families additional time and leeway to pay tuition and fees,” Carr says. “While well intended, this longstanding practice has penalized the college financially. As an economist, we’re confident that Dr. Tinubu will be able to get the college’s financial house in order.”
Barber-Scotia may apply for accreditation from another national accrediting board, college officials say. The school also plans to participate in a SACS pre-application workshop in October in hopes of laying the groundwork to get re-accredited. Tinubu hopes the college can be accepted as a candidate for new membership with SACS by June 2005, which means the school can start receiving federal funds again. But in the meantime, school officials are encouraging juniors and seniors to transfer to other area colleges and universities, (so that they may graduate from an accredited institution), but they expect 300 new and returning students to enroll this fall.
FAITH AND EXPERTISE
A tenured associate professor of economics at Spelman College, Bromwell-Tinubu knew when she accepted the Barber-Scotia presidency that the college was in trouble. She says she felt a special kinship to the school and for one of its preeminent graduates, Mary McLeod Bethune.
“I knew that they had financial issues. I knew that they were responding to issues raised by SACS, and I knew those issues were serious,” says Bromwell-Tinubu. “But there was something that was very appealing about the college for me. The college has a mission of serving students like me, like the kind of student I was. I come from a poor, rural background. My father had a third-grade education, my mother a sixth-grade education.”
With no time to waste, Bromwell-Tinubu is meeting Barber-Scotia’s challenges head on. She’s now in the midst of a campaign to raise $6 million by late August to help students pay tuition, which accounted for 60 percent of the college’s $14 million annual operating budget last year. With a dramatically reduced student population and staff this fall, college officials won’t know what the budget will look like for several more weeks, they said.
Syndicated radio personality, Tom Joyner, has donated $500,000 through his foundation. Currently, 800 students have been accepted for the fall, though officials only expect 300 to enroll. Joyner’s contribution will cover about 100 students, Bromwell-Tinubu says. For those additional students who will need financial aid, the school is asking individuals, corporations, and its founder, the Presbyterian Church, for more money. So far Barber-Scotia has raised $600,000, which includes the money from Joyner, Bromwell-Tinubu said.
“We’ve made an all out-appeal to the Presbyterian Church, and we’re continuing to work that,” she adds. “We’re also looking at individuals who have an interest in helping students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, to make sure that they have an opportunity to pursue higher education.”
The college has received its financial allocation for the year from the United Negro College Fund of which it is a member. And it’s too early to know what additional assistance UNCF might provide. Barber-Scotia officials also expect to work closely with the Southern Education Fund, which has been working with HBCUs to assist them in preparing for accreditation reviews.
Bromwell-Tinubu brings expertise and an abiding faith to her new position to aid Barber-Scotia in getting back on course. While at Spelman, where she began teaching in 1986, Bromwell-Tinubu chaired the department of economics and was elected to three consecutive terms as faculty representative to the board of trustees where she worked to increase faculty pay and decrease course load. She also served on the college’s financial and physical resources committee for SACS accreditation.
A former Atlanta city councilwoman, she served as the chief executive officer of the Atlanta Cooperative Development where, within nine months, she obtained a $1 million grant and led a campaign to raise an additional $2 million.
Before accepting the post at Barber-Scotia, Bromwell-Tinubu had previously accepted an offer to head Bethune-Cookman College in Florida, but contract negotiations fell through. The position at Barber-Scotia was yet another opportunity for her to honor the legacy of a pioneer in education with whom she says she shares a spiritual kinship.
“I think that she is the most phenomenal woman that ever walked the planet in terms of her ability to achieve so much in such a short time,” Bromwell-Tinubu says of Bethune. “She also comes from a very rural background, her parents were slaves, she’s from South Carolina, I’m from South Carolina. There was something connecting me to all of this,” Bromwell-Tinubu says. “I just believe this is where I’m supposed to be.”
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