Paine College’s accrediting body voted Thursday to keep the school on probation for a second year while it continues to resolve violations of financial and operational standards.
The next 12 months will be critical to Paine’s success, as two years is the maximum time colleges can operate under a probation sanction before accreditation is revoked.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges first placed Paine on the less severe warning sanction in June 2012 for violating six standards of accreditation and continued the warning in 2013 after Paine failed to resolve those issues. The commission placed the college on the more serious probation sanction last year when Paine was found noncompliant with 10 standards relating to management of federal student financial aid and fiscal stability, four more than the previous year.
Over the past year under a new president, Paine has resolved six violations but remains noncompliant in the four areas of financial resources, financial stability, control of finances, and control of sponsored research and external funds, according to SACSCOC President Belle Wheelan.
“They did make some progress, but they still have financial problems,” Wheelan said. “Next year it’s either up or out.”
Wheelan said Paine Interim President Samuel Sullivan and a panel of other administrators made a presentation to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees during the commission’s annual meeting this week in Virginia. The board voted to continue or impose new sanctions on 12 schools, six of which are historically black colleges and universities.
In a statement Thursday, Sullivan said Paine developed a detailed action plan to address these violations over the past year, and he thanked college staff and the school’s Board of Trustees for their work in making progress.
Sullivan said a SACSCOC committee delivered a favorable preliminary report during an on-site visit in the spring, but staff has continued to work on a plan to resolve the remaining four violations.
“Although we received a favorable preliminary report during the on-site visit in April, the campus community did not retreat,” Sullivan said. “Instead, we banded together to address the four remaining sanctions. The special in-house committee remained on the frontline and worked often round-the-clock while others were in the background rendering support.”
The six violations Paine has resolved over the past year include institutional environment, governing board, governing board control, governing board institutional policy, qualified officers and handling of federal student financial aid.
Noncompliance in those areas began under former President George C. Bradley, who resigned in September. During Bradley’s final year as president, the college had 10 furlough days in the summer and another round in the fall, along with layoffs and salary cuts amid accreditation problems.
Sullivan was named interim president after Bradley stepped down and has since made payroll every month and avoided staff furloughs, prompting the Paine faculty to pass a resolution at its April meeting calling for the college’s Board of Trustees to name Sullivan its permanent leader.
Sullivan has also spearheaded the Together, We Can Campaign, an aggressive fundraising effort to help combat serious revenue declines that are hurting the college’s bottom line and contributing to accreditation violations.
According to Paine’s most recent financial audit obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, the college ended 2014 with a decrease of $2.9 million in net assets, a measure SACSCOC uses to determine if the institution has sufficient financial resources to support its mission.
At the same time, Paine owed $5.4 million on its line of credit with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in 2014 compared to $3.8 million in 2013, according to the audit of fiscal years 2013 and 2014 conducted by professional services firm BDO.
Sullivan has declined requests for comment on the Together, We Can Campaign and how much is needed to secure the private college’s coffers. But in his statement Thursday, Sullivan called on the community to continue supporting the school in a way that will guarantee its future.
“We have much work to do,” Sullivan said. “I am appealing to the Paine College alumni, friends and the greater Augusta community to support the college now more than ever. It is critical that alumni and friends continue to support the Together, We Can Campaign that is designed to meet immediate needs for the college.”