By Bob Allen
The board of trustees of a regional accrediting body for degree-granting higher education institutions in the South voted June 19 to remove the accreditation of Brewton-Parker College for failure to comply with membership standards.
Those standards related to financial resources, stability and control, as well as those for federal grants, loans and work-study programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, according to a public disclosure statement posted online July 3.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges said the Georgia Baptist Convention-affiliated school in Mount Vernon, Ga., exhausted its probationary two-year period to come into compliance with standards expected from an institution of higher learning.
These standards expect an institution to provide evidence that it (1) has a sound financial base and financial stability to support the mission of the institution and the scope of its programs, (2) provides a recent financial history that demonstrates financial stability, (3) exercises appropriate control over all its financial resources, and (4) is in compliance with its program responsibilities under Title IV.
If Brewton-Parker submits a formal appeal by July 11, which officials say they intend to do, the school will remain an accredited institution on probation until an appeals committee convenes on either Aug. 18, 19 or 20.
If the July 11 deadline passes without a formal appeal, the decision of the SACSCOC board of trustees to remove Brewton-Parker College from membership becomes final effective retroactively to June 19.
The report includes a statement from Brewton-Parker officials saying they were “extremely surprised” by the ruling and that they believe “that after reviewing all the evidence the appellate panel will favorably reconsider and reverse the decision of SACS.” If it doesn’t, “Brewton-Parker will exercise all available legal remedies to vindicate its rights,” the statement said.
Brewton-Parker College President Ergun Caner sent a video message to faculty and staff immediately after learning about the decision while away at a camp in Myrtle Beach, S.C., June 25.
“Number one, this is a long process,” Caner said. “I’m talking about our SACS accreditation, and to dissuade any kind of rumor or speculation: We are, now, accredited. We’ll be accredited. We are as much accredited as we’ve always been.”
“Now, we’ve been on probation for any number of years, and as you guys know we have a history of having fights with our accreditation bureau and having issues in our finances,” he said. “However, here’s what you need to know: Just because this stage of the accreditation process turned out the way it did, we didn’t lose accreditation. We aren’t losing accreditation.”
After receiving a formal letter announcing the vote, Caner said, come the 10 days the school has to file an appeal, “during which time we then maintain our accreditation.”
“We then go to August, when that appeals process goes before some sort of commission or board in SACS. Again, we maintain our accreditation,” he continued. “And then if that doesn’t go well, if there’s a blip there or a bump in the road there, we still maintain our accreditation. We use all legal means necessary.”
“School after school after school has had to deal with this, including our Baptist brothers and sisters, even those here in Georgia,” Caner said. “Don’t let anybody go around saying ‘Oh, you know, they have lost their accreditation.’ We haven’t lost one thing. We are still accredited. We are absolutely accredited as we were before.
“Every degree transfers, [we are] fully operational, and we have all the financial resources, including federal aid — as a matter of fact federal is coming out stronger than we have ever been — that’s what’s so interesting here.
“This is a long process, but we have never been in such a good financial shape as we are right now. We are in the black. We are ending the year in the black, both in operations and in cash flow. Which means we have not only a balanced budget for the upcoming year, but we have all the money we need for all the contracts we need. And we didn’t end up in the red. We aren’t in deficit.”
“Let me state this for the record,” Caner assured the campus community. “We have many options at our disposal. I would never, the board would never, your leadership team, administration, nobody would ever risk becoming unaccredited.
“When you’re accredited you have all the financial aid that the federal government offers. You have students who can transfer where they need to. There are any number of options, and over the course of the next few years we’ll explore all of them.”
“But make no mistake, I believe the SACS thing will be resolved in our favor,” Caner said. “I believe that SACS will, for lack of a better term, come around, because you can’t look at this school and see anything but not only progress, but stability, control. We are in the best financial situation we could possibly be. So please don’t panic. Please don’t think ‘Oh no, the world is falling in’ or ‘Oh no, my credits won’t transfer’ or ‘Oh no, what’s going to happen to my job?’”
“We’re financially stable, we’re growing, and this school is strong,” Caner said. “Say in the last 15 years, we are the strongest we have ever been. Don’t let the fear, don’t let fear mongers, don’t let the people who worry and rumor, get the best of you.”
“I wanted you to know that. I wanted you to hear that from my mouth,” he concluded. “We are accredited. We shall remain accredited. Yeah, we’re still probationary. No, I don’t believe that’s going to be forever. Yes, I will fight. Yes, we will all fight. Yes, we’re not fighting out of asking for mercy. We’re asking them to recognize what we … have done right now.”
“Financial controls, restraint, spending — everything we could possibly offer them, everything they asked for, in those four areas of financial control, we not only did, we exceeded,” Caner said.
“If anybody would be worried it would be me, and I promise you I’m not,” Caner said. “This is going to be a long haul. This is going to be a long process. Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. So, the school is worth fighting for. We won’t lose our accreditation, not for a moment. BPC is open and ready for business.”