Financially Troubled LeMoyne-Owen College Has Accreditation Reaffirmed

MEMPHIS, Tenn.

Financially strapped LeMoyne-Owen College has had its accreditation reaffirmed and officials believe the decision will improve the school’s enrollment.

School officials got the news Monday night, a day before the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools met in New Orleans for its annual meeting.

“We worked so hard on this the last year and a half, under great stress,” LeMoyne-Owen board president Robert Lipscomb said. “I feel really good about this. I think the whole community should feel good about it.”

For now, this ends an ongoing saga that saw SACS place the historically Black school on probation each of the last two years as officials grew increasingly concerned over LeMoyne’s worsening finances.

In the last decade, LeMoyne-Owen’s debt has more than doubled, from nearly $5.3 million in 1997 to nearly $9.75 million in 2005, while its enrollment dropped by more than 40 percent this school year.

After two straight years of probation, SACS officials considered pulling the school’s accreditation, which meant students wouldn’t have been able to qualify for federal funds. Instead, LeMoyne-Owen won’t have to endure the lengthy accreditation process until the next cycle, which comes around every 10 years.

SACS head Dr. Belle Wheelan declined to comment on the decision, but the association was apparently influenced by the school’s recent fundraising efforts.

Earlier this year, the school collected about $4 million in pledges to allow classes to begin as planned on Aug. 20. The city of Memphis pledged $3 million over three years. The first $1 million was delivered June 29.

School officials received other private pledges and also are hoping for another $3 million combined from Shelby County and the state, pending legislative approval.

Besides the city, substantial pledges came from the United Negro College Fund, Cummins Inc., radio host Tom Joyner and the United Church of Christ.

Lipscomb said the reaffirmed accreditation should help increase student enrollment, which now stands at less than 600.

“I think it means that people will now believe that the cloud is gone,” he said. “For a lot of students, it hurt our efforts to recruit. They didn’t know if we would be accredited.”

The college has played a unique role in Memphis’ history and has graduated an illustrious list of alumni. It traces its beginnings to the 1860s and efforts to educate former slaves.

Before educational facilities were desegregated, LeMoyne-Owen produced graduates that helped build a black middle class in what’s now a predominantly black city, and they took part in the political power shift that put Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, an alumnus, in office in 1991.

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