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Friday, June 26, 2009

Paul Quinn loses its accreditation

Paul Quinn College has lost its accreditation because of financial and academic problems, officials announced yesterday – a devastating blow that jeopardizes the future of the tiny liberal arts college in southern Dallas.

Colleges need accreditation to award degrees and offer students federal financial aid. That seal of approval is also usually needed for student credits to transfer to other colleges.

It ultimately could force Paul Quinn's 440 students to find another school.

"They had made progress ... but they ran out of time before they could come into compliance on everything," said Belle Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Paul Quinn, one of eight historically black colleges in Texas, was put on probation two years ago. It still fell short in three areas: financial resources, financial stability and institutional effectiveness – essentially a college's ability to teach students what they need to know.

"They didn't have enough money. They were in debt," Wheelan said.

President Michael Sorrell said he was disappointed by the decision.

"We're absolutely going to file an appeal," he said. "One of the issues folks need to understand is that we made a phenomenal amount of progress."

For instance, he said the college expects to have a surplus of more than $200,000 at the end of this fiscal year.

Paul Quinn had failed a federal test of financial responsibility, based on last fiscal year. Colleges in that situation face extra federal scrutiny and must post letters of credit so they can continue to receive and award federal student aid.

It's unusual for colleges to lose accreditation. Wheelan said the last time that happened with her agency was in 2007, with St. Andrews Presbyterian College in North Carolina, also because of financial problems. Later, however, a federal judge ordered the accrediting agency to reinstate the school's accreditation.

Sorrell is Paul Quinn's fifth college president since 2001. A businessman, lawyer and political consultant, Sorrell was widely considered the best shot at turning around the long-struggling school.

In two years, he has instituted a number of changes, including a business-casual dress code, tougher academic standards and more aggressive recruiting.

"He made great progress. He just didn't make enough progress," Wheelan said.

With classes in summer recess, the 130-acre campus was mostly vacant Thursday. A guard at the front gate denied access to anyone without an appointment.

William Baker, a sophomore education major, said he struggled with college in Muskegon, Mich., and followed two family members to Paul Quinn. He said the Dallas school has served him well.

"It's a school where you are identified by name, not just number. Anytime I needed anything they were there. It's very family-oriented. The president was always walking around, shaking hands, checking on students," he said. "He always had an open-door policy."

Sorrell said he did not want to speculate on what loss of accreditation means for faculty and students.

"I want to stop short of rendering opinions on things like that until we've exhausted the appeal process," he said.

Dallas ISD trustee Ron Price is a Paul Quinn graduate. He said he was disappointed that the campus lost accreditation, and he noted that it often leads to a college's closing.

"My heart goes out to those 400-plus students who put their time, energy and resources into the college," he said.

Baker, 21, last year's sophomore class president, said he will transfer if future classes won't count toward a degree.

"But I'm going to continue to believe I'll come back here in September," he said. "Even though we are struggling, I believe it will turn around."

The college's loss of accreditation appears to have nothing to do with quality of the school's academic programs.


Megan C. said...

My heart goes out to the students of Paul Quinn College, as a student at Florida A&M I have some thoughts on how they feel. I transferred to FAMU right when they got put on Probation by SACS, and a lot of people tried to convince me that this wasn't a smart move. A a senior of the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, I am proud to be a rattler, and my prayers go out to the students and faculty of Paul Quinn, this isn't the end of the road, its the beginning of the fight.

halfcuban said...

While I'm generally a fan of rooting for the underdog, the simple truth is that individuals should stop throwing good money after bad. If an educational institution finds itself significantly in debt there are only two means of generating the "revenue" to make it back up, neither of which are good for students; taking their money and not using it for its intended direct purpose, and cutting back on faculty, staff, and plan maintenance.

While I feel sorry for the students at the college, they should simply be allowed to transfer intact to schools whose financial balance sheets are not in crisis.

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