The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges voted Thursday to keep Paine on a warning sanction for another 12 months, finding that it is out of compliance with most of the same six standards for which it was initially placed on notice in June 2012.
Paine is in violation of standards related to managing financial resources, employing qualified staffers, being able to demonstrate financial stability, exercising control over finances, having control over sponsored research/external funding, and handling federal student financial aid, according to Belle Wheelan, the commission’s president.
Wheelan said SACS officials visited the campus in the spring for a compliance check but determined that not enough progress had been made to lift the sanction.
Paine’s vice president of institutional advancement, Brandon Brown, said the college continues to improve and “has put a plan in place” to address the issues.
“The college is getting stronger every day, and we are working very hard,” Brown said Thursday. “We are very pleased at the position the college is headed in, and the support of the community has been overwhelming.”
In addition to the in-person review SACS made on campus in March, it reviewed Paine’s financial audit covering July 2011 to June 2012, according to Brown. He said the college has made “significant changes” since that time that will be reflected in the audit covering July 2012 to June 2013, which is being compiled.
Paine received its first sanction in June 2012 after financial issues surfaced showing a mismanagement of federal funding and expenditures that surpassed income.
An audit of fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11 showed Paine did not change enrollment statuses or return unused financial aid to the government after some students withdrew. The audit detailed the school’s lack of resources and knowledgeable personnel dedicated to preparing financial statements and managing federal money.
Paine lost access until 2014 to the Federal Perkins Loan, a need-based program for students, after not properly accounting for the funding.
The audit showed Paine mismanaged federal student aid by giving money to two students out of a 40-student sample who did not attend the school, did not return leftover financial aid after students withdrew and did not properly record withdrawal statuses for students.
An April 2012 memo written by a Paine board of trustees member also showed that the school used federal money intended for students to pay payroll and past-due bills in December 2011 and January 2012.
Paine has declined several requests by The Augusta Chronicle for a copy of its 2011-12 financial audit, which is not subject to certain open records laws because Paine is a private institution.
However, Brown said he sees Paine’s coming out from under its sanction and “exceeding the expectations.”
Schools can remain under a warning sanction for only two years before progressing to the more severe probation period. The probation sanction is used as a last step before a school has its accreditation removed, according to the school commission’s policy.
Accreditation is the confirmation of a college or university’s integrity and financial stability by a federally recognized accrediting body. The distinction is vital for schools to be considered legitimate and maintain access to federal funding, according to Allan Aycock, the director for assessment and accreditation at University of Georgia.
Students can receive financial aid only if they attend an accredited college or university, and researchers are not eligible for funding if their institutions are not accredited.
Aycock said schools are often given recommendations by accrediting bodies on how to improve; however, sanctions are more rare, and the revocation of accreditation is even more uncommon.
“The idea is not to get rid of them, but to help them adhere to best practices in everything from financial stability to faculty governance to having legitimate programs and being sure that students are learning what you want them to learn,” Aycock said. “There are many opportunities even prior to warning and probation sanctions that universities get to correct problems.”