The Buzz

June 19, 2014

SC State University's accreditation downgraded

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

S.C. State University's accreditation was placed on probation Thursday after an outside review cited the Orangeburg college for problems with its finances, governance, administration and financial aid program.

The state's only historically public black college has a year to make changes or could face another year under probation, said Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, which oversees school's accreditation.

If the school does not meet standards by 2016, S.C. State could lose its accreditation, she said.

Federal financial aid is not available to students attending schools without accreditation, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Cuts in federal aid already have hurt S.C. State's enrollment. A plummeting student body -- down which has dropped by one-third since 2007 -- is a crux of the school's ongoing financial problems that includes a $13.6 million deficit this year.

S.C. State's accreditation was placed under a warning a year ago for financial and governance problems. SACS officials checked the school's progress in April and downgraded S.C. State's status after citing the college in eight areas.

Wheelan said they include: financial resources; financial stability; control of finances; student financial aid; organizational structure; governance; qualified academic and administrative officers; and control of sponsored and external funds.

S.C. State President Thomas Elzey, who arrived a year ago when SACS issued the warning, said his administration is committed to "preserving the university’s legacy of excellence in research, teaching and service." He said the college expected the bad news from SACS.

"Due to our serious financial situation, we knew that (probation) would be a possibility, but we are viewing it as an opportunity to continue to get our financial affairs in order," Elzey said in a statement released by the school. "That is why we are adamant in our commitment to working with Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers to receive a much needed budgetary aid package currently being considered by state lawmakers."

The state legislative session ended Thursday.

S.C. State's $13.6 million deficit this year actually accumulated over eight years as the school borrowed money from a community grant program to pay bills. Those loans stopped after a state audit this year.

State budget leaders agreed to loan S.C. State $6 million to pay some of the bills, but the school has needed to the money to cover payroll and debt payments. The college and lawmakers have changed S.C. State's leadership in its administrative offices and board room to help right the school.

A group of former and current S.C. college presidents, including Harris Pastides of University of South Carolina and Jim Barker of Clemson, have been assigned to aid the S.C. board find solutions for the school. In addition, the school must used as much as $500,000 from the $6 million state loan on a financial consultant.

Elzey has led efforts to boost enrollment and cut spending, which has included trimming staff by 180 employees this school year. Applications are up more than 50 percent from a year ago, S.C. State officials said.

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