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St. Paul’s lands $1.4 million grant / October 03, 2012
Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville will receive nearly $1.4 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) programs for historically black colleges and universities. It is one of six schools in Virginia awarded the grant — the purpose of which, according to USDE, allows the schools to establish or strengthen their physical plants, financial management, academic resources and endowment-building capacity.

The other Virginia schools chosen by USDE are Virginia State University, Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Virginia Union University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg. Their awards range from a high of $3.679 million for Virginia State University to a low of $500,000 for Virginia University of Lynchburg.

Claudia Cochran, the Title III Coordinator and Associate Director at Saint Paul’s College, said the school was happy to receive the award, but could not say whether this influx of money would have any impact on the decision of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) to withdraw Saint Paul’s accreditation. “So far they [SACS] are holding firm.”

Cochran said the reason this grant may not change SAC’s position is because the accrediting body is looking for the school to raise “unrestricted funds,” money that can be used to pay down debt, or build up an endowment. This grant money cannot be used for either purpose.

“These (referring to the grant award) are restricted funds,” Cochran said, meaning the USDE grant must be used for specific purposes identified by the college and the USDE. The school can purchase, rent, or lease scientific or laboratory equipment, construct, maintain, renovate, and improve instruction facilities, purchase library materials, or develop or improve tutoring, counseling and student services programs.

Also allowed, under the USDE guidelines are expenditures tied to the establishment or improvement of development offices, establishment or enhancement of teacher education programs, and establishment of outreach programs.

Some of the award can go toward fixing one problem area highlighted by SACS — the school’s institutional effectiveness governing administrative, academic and student support services. However, Cochran stressed that Saint Paul’s must be careful not to run afoul of the spending plan approved by the USDE when it made the award.

The USDE Office of Postsecondary Education administers the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) grant. The five-year grants will go to schools in 19 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Most of the schools receiving grants are in the South.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the grants “enable historically black colleges to help students who grapple with financial challenges” as they pursue post-secondary education.

“HBCUs have made enduring, even staggering contributions to American life despite the steep financial challenges many have faced,” Duncan said in a statement. “The grants will help these important institutions continue to provide their students with the quality education they need to compete in the global economy.”

For now, Saint Paul’s projects include technology improvements, tutoring and counseling for students, faculty and staff development, and maintenance and renovation of educational facilities.

In June Saint Paul’s learned it had lost its accreditation from SACS, and in August its appeal to SACS Commission on Colleges. As a result, Saint Paul’s trustees opted to suspend all classes except those for returning students in the Adult Accelerated Degree Completion Program (ADCP).

Officials spent the summer working with the remaining undergraduate population, helping them transfer to accredited schools. Those efforts ceased on August 29 when U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr. temporarily reinstated Saint Paul’s SACS accreditation.

The school changed course and decided to hold classes starting at the end of September. Vanessa Minter, with the President’s office, said she could not say exactly how many of Saint Paul’s undergraduates were returning. As of Friday, nearly 100 former undergraduates were re-enrolled.

Minter said she also expected the college to reinstate some of the 50 staff laid off this summer when the school faced closure.

The return of the students and faculty is good news for the small town of Lawrenceville as well. When news of Saint Paul’s imminent closure reached Mayor Doug Pond, he lamented both the loss of students and their spending power.

He called the college a vital part of the town’s economy and vowed to work closely with school officials to keep the school open.

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