The president of Paul Quinn College said Friday he would appeal the loss of the historically Black college’s accreditation with the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
If the small Texas school’s appeal is rejected, Paul Quinn students would be ineligible for federal and state financial aid. This is problematic because most students will not be able to enroll without that aid.
Dr. Belle S. Wheelan, president of the SACS, told Diverse in a phone interview that Sorrell had led many substantial improvements, but the college still had not met the commission’s standards.
The commission was concerned about the institution’s financial resources—whether or not the school had enough money to keep the doors open— and if the school was financially stable, Wheelan said.
The association also raised concerns about Paul Quinn’s institutional effectiveness, which assesses if students are learning what the commission said students must learn, according to the commission’s Principles of Accreditation: Principles for Quality Enhancement.
“They had made good progress on some issues that caused some concerned two years ago but they were not able to demonstrate that they had been in full compliance with those three areas,” Wheelan said.
A college or university can be on probation for two years, at which time the commission must determine if the institution is in full compliance and should be taken off of probation, or if they are not and should be dropped for membership, Wheelan said.
“There’s still a lot of debt there,” Wheelan said. “[Sorrell] came in while they were already on probation. They made a lot of good progress, but they weren’t able to get everything done in the time they had.”
The institution will receive a letter from the agency this week, Wheelan said, in response to Sorrell’s claim that he had not received a written document with details about its lost membership.
This month Paul Quinn became one of 114 private, nonprofit colleges to fail a U.S. Department of Education financial responsibility test. The college earned a 0.6 on the test, falling 0.9 points short of the required 1.5 to pass.
In an official statement from Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, said UNCF had carefully followed SACS review and had worked closely to help Paul Quinn address the accreditation agency’s concerns.
“While we understand the concerns raised by SACS, we believe that withdrawal of accreditation is a disproportionately harsh penalty, in fact a death sentence for this historic institution,” Lomax said. “We will do all that we can to defend Paul Quinn and protect it from so harsh a sanction that does not recognize the substantial progress the college has made.”
The statement said Sorrell’s administration has worked to earn the confidence of UNCF’s member presidents and its corporate board of directors. Earlier this month, the organization forgave a $500,000 balance on a loan it gave Paul Quinn 10 years ago.
“We believe that the college’s probation should be reinstated and that (the college) should be given more time to proceed with its work to meet SACS’ standards,” Lomax said.
From the moment Sorrell arrived at Paul Quinn in March 2007, he was determined to make some changes. He instituted a dress code and made cuts to the school’s athletic program, receiving national attention. Last year, the school partnered with Habitat for Humanity to form a pilot program that rewards academic excellence and community service with home ownership.
The school held a spring revival to raise money and it also eliminated classes with low enrollment to conserve resources and make operations more efficient.
Sorrell, an Oberlin College and Duke University alumnus and former graduate fellow at Harvard University, also revamped the institution’s fund raising efforts. During its 2008 audit, the school produced no findings of non-compliance for the first time in more than 10 years compared to the 23 findings the year before, Sorrell said in other published media reports.
Sorrell reported that student retention numbers have improved by more than 50 percent and he shared in a recent Dallas Morning News interview that enrollment had dropped only because of tougher academic standards.
Sorrell assured students in the blog that “the status of the college remains unchanged” while the matter is under appeal.
“Your classes will continue as scheduled, you will not lose any of your credit hours or academic standing, and we still have the ability to grant degrees. Paul Quinn College is open, and we intend to remain that way,” he said.
The SACS has set aside dates in August to hear the college’s appeal, Wheelan told Diverse.
The school can reapply for membership at anytime and the application process for accreditation takes an average of 1 ½ to 2 years, she said.
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