Two historical Black universities saw their collegiate accreditations recently removed from probationary status.
Florida A&M University was placed on probationary status one year ago in the wake of the hazing death of a member of its marching band. But the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) removed that designation Dec. 10, saying the school had fixed a number of problems.
Interim President Larry Robinson said a “dark cloud” had been lifted off the school.
“It’s the best possible outcome that could have happened for this university,” Robinson said, according to the Associated Press.
Florida A&M was cited for several issues, including the safety of its students after the November 2011 death of marching band member Robert Champion, as well as financial oversight and auditing integrity, according to the AP. Students attending unaccredited universities are not eligible for financial aid.
A similar cloud was lifted from Nashville-based Fisk University when the SACS reaffirmed the institution’s accreditation and removed its probationary status on the same day.
“Today is sort of another ‘Jubilee Day’ for Fisk University,” Fisk President H. James Williams said in a statement. “October 6, 1871 was the day our original Jubilee Singers left the campus on a fundraising mission to save Fisk. December 10, 2013 marks the day that Fisk received its reaffirmation without a blemish and enables Fisk to continue the excellent work it has performed for almost 148 years.”
In a December 2011 decision to place Fisk on two years of probation, the accrediting body cited five problem areas—four concerning poor financial controls and the fifth related to the school’s governance, saying the trustees had failed to manage the school’s budgetary affairs, according to The (Nashville) Tennessean.
Williams took the school’s helm in February after leaving his position as dean of the business school at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Williams, who holds degrees in accounting, business and law, guided the school’s strategic initiatives to address the accrediting body’s concerns.
“In the past couple of years we had deficits and had to make the case of why we had deficits,” Williams said. “This time, we’ve finished the 2012-13 year in the black, exceeded our fundraising goals for 2013, and increased our enrollment in Fall 2012 and Fall 2013. We’re in the black for the first quarter of this fiscal year (2013-14) and have made a number of fundamental changes in how we handle our financial affairs.”
Fisk’s financial woes—and the resulting troubles with the accrediting body—are not a singular occurrence. HBCUs tend to educate students who struggle with financing, and things have only gotten worse with recent changes in rules governing who can qualify for Parent PLUS loans and Pell Grants; they’re plagued by meager endowments and have been severely impacted by reductions in federal education spending.
On top of that, the schools also face “a byzantine accreditation process that penalizes schools for carrying too much debt,” wrote Julianne Malveaux, former president of Bennett College for Women, in a July article in Essence.
“Working with SACS and other accrediting agencies can be like trying to roll a pea uphill—a daunting undertaking for presidents who have inherited challenging financial situations and are trying to improve them,” she continued. “[And] success is not guaranteed.”