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Saint Paul’s College to close at end of June
SoVaNow.com / June 05, 2013The end of June will mark the demise of 125-year-old Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, one of 106 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S. and one of three founded by the Episcopal Church. The college is closing its doors June 30 after it was unable to overcome a string of problems ranging from lost accreditation to shaky finances.
College officials shared the decision to close with students and faculty, alumni and the regional accrediting authority — the Southeastern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges (SACS) — earlier this week.
Officials with SACS anticipate that some college credits for the 125 underclassmen enrolled at Saint Paul’s will be transferable to other universities. Saint Paul’s is preparing teach-out agreements with other institutions “to ensure the smooth transition of their students so that they may complete their degrees with little if any interruption,” said Belle Wheelan, President of SACS Commission on Colleges.
Dr. John Caven, president of Southside Virginia Community College (SVCC), is one institution where Saint Paul’s students could enroll as they continue work toward a college degree. “SVCC has worked in close partnership with Saint Paul’s College for many years and is, of course, saddened by this devastating loss to the educational community of Southside Virginia,” said Cavan this week. “Our college will work with students from Saint Paul’s who wish to transfer and would welcome the opportunity to help them continue the pursuit of higher education.”
The school, which first opened on September 24, 1888, offered undergraduate degrees for traditional college students and for distant learning students in a Continuing Studies Program. It also offered adult education classes to help working adults gain undergraduate degrees. Saint Paul’s also featured a Single Parent Support System Program that enabled single teen parents to obtain a college education. Childcare and living space were provided while the parent was in class.
Contacted about the demise of Saint Paul’s, Lawrenceville Mayor Douglas Pond said, “I like many in the community are saddened by the closure — for the employees, the students and Southside Virginia, which is losing a four-year institution that was within a reasonable driving distance for the students.”
The decision to shut down came just three weeks after Saint Augustine’s University (SAU) backed out of a plan to merge the two schools. In a May 10 press statement, SAU President Dianne Boardley Suber said, “This was a very difficult decision to make. We explored several options in an effort to make the acquisition viable for Saint Augustine’s University. However, after completing our due diligence, we concluded that the acquisition of Saint Paul’s College, at this time, would significantly challenge the fiscal stability of Saint Augustine’s University.”
SAU is a liberal-arts school in Raleigh with about 1,500 students that, like Saint Paul’s, was founded after the Civil War by the Episcopal Church to educate freed slaves. Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C. is the only other historically black college with ties to the Episcopal Church.
When the college shuts down, the initial job loss for the community will be between 80 and 100 people, Pond estimated. The number could grow as businesses that relied on student and faculty spending leave the area.
Pond, who had been working with the school’s administrators in an attempt to merge Saint Paul’s with SAU, said, “This may turn into an opportunity for Southside Virginia. I believe I have an obligation to find out if the community can create a positive from a negative.” Pond said he is looking into what will happen to the campus once the school is closed, since the official owner of the land and buildings, according to the Brunswick County Commissioner of Revenue, is Saint Paul’s College.
Gatha Richardson of Halifax, a 1960 Saint Paul’s graduate and an active member of the Southern Virginia diocese, said he hopes that once the school’s property is ready to be disposed, another college or university will take over the site. He and several “Saint Paulites,” as he calls fellow alums, will gather soon for a BBQ and discussion on what comes next for the school.
“Sadly, once the school started having problems, no one was focusing on the long term or the future,” Richardson said.
He added that too many of the college’s presidents, including Robert L. Satcher, the ninth President who served from 2007 and 2011, were too lax when it came to finances. “I thought that if anyone could raise money for the school, it was him,” Richardson said, pointing to the fact that Satcher’s brother, Dr. David Satcher, was U.S. Surgeon General under President Bill Clinton.
In June 2012, Saint Paul’s was stripped of its accreditation by SACS after failing to correct violations that included a lack of financial resources and institutional effectiveness in support services, institutional effectiveness in academics and student services, and lack of terminal degrees for too many faculty members. The college was placed under a two-year probationary period.
Details of the SACS’ decision were spelled out in a formal letter to the college in July.
One of the major problems Saint Paul’s faced, according to then-Vice President for Institutional Advancement, Kimberly Tetlow, was with accrediting standards that require the institution to have a sound financial base and demonstrate “financial stability to support the mission of the institution and the scope of its programs and services,” and show a recent financial history of stability.
Other deficiencies that Saint Paul’s failed to address included breaches in educational standards. SACS requires that at least 25 percent of the course hours in each major at the baccalaureate level must be taught by faculty members holding an appropriate degree —usually an earned doctorate or close equivalent.
U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr., in August 2012, issued a preliminary injunction reinstating the college’s probationary accreditation while its legal challenge against SACS remained pending. Saint Paul’s opened for the fall semester only after obtaining the preliminary injunction. Since then, the college also saw two presidents depart. The first, Eddie N. Moore, Jr., was replaced by Dr. Claud Flythe, who resigned without public explanation in May 2013. Recently the Saint Paul’s board hired Dr. Algeania Freeman as interim president.
The Board of Trustees is headed by Dr. Oliver W. Spencer Jr., superintendent of Brunswick County Schools.
Saint Paul’s officials did not return calls seeking comment, and the school’s website has not been updated to indicate it will soon close.
CommentsSad that any school has to close but especially one of the HBC's.
They have served their purpose well and I think there's still a certain prestige in having graduated from one of them.
I guess there's more competition from larger schools for students, and it's difficult for them to compete against larger universities' marketing machines, endowments, and scholarship offers.
- By powerhouse on 06 / 06 / 13
CommentsWell, there goes another hbc to close. I wonder why Knoxville College (A HBC affiliated with the Presbyterian church) in Knoxville,TN has not closed, even though it lost its accreditation from SACS in 1997? For that matter, why is it that there historically private black colleges and private women colleges, but to have private white male colleges, would be deemed sexist and racist?
- By Benjamin Schlechter on 10 / 23 / 13
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