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Bishop State Community College Among Three HBCUs Placed On Accreditation Probation

The nation’s second-largest historically Black university received a laundry list of issues it needs to address in the next year to regain full accreditation, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools officials said at its annual meeting in New Orleans last month.

Texas Southern joined the nation’s largest HBCU — Florida A&M University — and Bishop State Community College in Alabama on the list of HBCUs placed on probation by SACS’s Commission on Colleges.

Twenty-six Bishop State employees have been charged with theft by the Mobile County District Attorney’s office for obtaining in excess of $200,000 in federal financial aid funds fraudulently, prompting the U.S. Department of Education to suspend financial aid awards to Bishop students. Enrollment has plummeted and many Bishop officials have been forced out, including former Bishop State President Yvonne Kennedy who announced her retirement in June.

Things have begun to turn around for the troubled two-year institution recently, as Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson has announced his investigation is nearly complete and the U.S. Department of Education has begun to reimburse Bishop State for the financial aid awards it had to pay out of its own contingency funds.

Nevertheless, SACS, though continuing the college’s accreditation, extended Bishop’s probation for failing to provide sufficient evidence that its financial resources are sufficient to meet minimum operating standards, among other deficiencies. Bishop State will undergo its next SACS review in the fall of 2008.

FAMU, which was put on probation last summer, has had its probation extended another six months to address several issues to gain full reaccreditation. Only one item on the school’s list of 10 areas of noncompliance — filling vacancies in its board of trustees — has been addressed, according to information received by SACS from the university.

Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges, says the list of issues to be rectified may actually be shorter because of a clean audit FAMU received just before SACS met.

“Their audit didn’t get in on time,” she says. “Some of those (issues) perhaps could have been cleared up.”

FAMU received its first clean audit in three years before the accreditation announcement, a sure sign that things are turning around for the 120-year-old university. President James H. Ammons also notes the school’s accreditation status was hindered by the commission not having the school’s latest audit in its hands at their annual meeting.

FAMU was found not to be in compliance on things such as having financial stability and control over sponsored research funds. The school was also told to hire qualified academic and administrative staff.

“This decision was very disappointing in light of our efforts,” Ammons stated in a release. “We did everything humanly possible in the last five months to turn this situation around. We were responsible for … a corrective-action plan that significantly improved the university’s fiscal affairs.”

Texas Southern, which has been enthralled in controversy over financial issues that have surfaced in recent years, was given a year to demonstrate financial stability and re-establish integrity, among other things.

“While we are disappointed by SACS’s decision, we look forward to this opportunity to directly address the concerns and prove our financial stability,” the university declared in a statement.

A letter sent out to the university community detailed the issues SACS felt needed to be addressed. It also sought to reassure stakeholders that officials were working to solve the problems before the probationary period ends in December.

“SACS has not expressed any concern with our academic quality and this probationary status does not impact the education our students receive,” the release stated. “In an effort to address potential areas of concern, we want to also make the following clear: Federal funding and student aid are not threatened; academic programming will not be impacted; and student services will not be reduced.”

The school is also faced with the challenge of finding its next leader. Dr. Priscilla Slade was fired in June 2006 and charged in connection with spending inefficiencies. Accused of spending about $300,000 of public funds to refurnish and landscape her homes, Slade’s prosecution ended in a mistrial but the case is expected to be retried. Quintin Wiggins, the school’s chief financial officer under Slade, was convicted and sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for paying out large sums of money, which should have been approved by the school’s Board of Regents.

Other issues with financial management at the university surfaced during the investigation into Slade’s spending. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for a state takeover of the university, and he replaced the school Board of Regents.

School officials are confident that problems with accreditation will be addressed and handled before the school goes before the board again.

“Texas Southern University has a strong history filled with stories of triumph over challenges,” the release stated. “The challenge before us is one we will overcome. Rest assured that we will not be deterred from our goal of moving the university forward and advancing its historic mission of creating educational opportunity and expanding young minds.”

— Report compiled with information from The Associated Press


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