S.C. State must act to maintain accreditation

ashain@thestate.comJune 20, 2013 

— Thomas Elzey’s first week leading S.C. State University ended with a warning from an accreditation agency over the Orangeburg school’s financial stability and interference by trustees.

The state’s only public historically black college has 12 months to show it is meeting eight areas of concern cited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. If not, the commission, which accredits many Southern universities, could extend the warning or place S.C. State’s accreditation on probation, said Belle Wheelan, the group’s president.

Elzey, who became president of S.C. State last Saturday after a stint at The Citadel, said the school will address any problems.

“We will not let them hang over our heads,” he said. “Students coming here will be rest assured that they will not need to worry about this.”

S.C. State received a warning from SACS in 2008 over the involvement of trustees in day-to-day operations, Wheelan said. That warning was rescinded, she said.

SACS renewed S.C. State’s 10-year accreditation in 2010, but asked the school for information about whether it was following standards earlier this year after receiving news reports about its struggles with falling enrollment, rising budget deficits and ongoing leadership clashes, Elzey said. A former board chairman also pleaded not guilty in January to fraud charges related to the school.

The answers, sent under the leadership of then-interim president Cynthia Warrick, did not sufficiently demonstrate that the school was following accreditation rules and led to the 12-month warning, said Wheelan, who was S.C. State’s commencement speaker in May.

Elzey likened the warning to a “professor who grades a paper and found answers to be incomplete.”

A letter outlining problem areas will be posted on the SACS website next week. The school will receive details about areas cited next month.

SACS issues about 30 warnings a year to the 804 colleges it accredits, Wheelan said.

While S.C. State is not losing its accreditation, warnings can hurt enrollment, Wheelan said. “It’s a stigma.”

S.C. State’s enrollment, which has fallen more than 20 percent to 3,800 over the past five years, contributed to a nearly $6 million deficit this year.

Elzey said he expected to hear from SACS this week but did not know what to expect. He will pull staff together and meet with board members next week, the last gathering for four trustees voted out by the General Assembly this year. Their successors take over July 1.

“We’re going to look at what we could have and should have done,” Elzey said.

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