NCCU's Georgia campus degrees valid

Staff WriterSeptember 27, 2008 

Bachelor's degrees earned by 25 N.C. Central University students who attended an unauthorized satellite campus at a suburban Georgia megachurch are valid, the head of the university's accrediting agency said Tuesday.

Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges, said she was satisfied with the response she received from NCCU and the UNC system about the campus.

NCCU has closed the small collection of undergraduate programs that operated for four years at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. The pastor there is Eddie Long, an NCCU trustee.

"For the students who graduated, it's good news," Wheelan said Tuesday. "The degrees are sound. As far as we're concerned, the issue is resolved."

It was a sliver of good news as well for NCCU, which has spent the last couple of months trying to make sense of the mess left by the program's closing.

"It has removed any question about the validity of the degrees," NCCU Chancellor Charlie Nelms said. "That's no longer part of the conversation."

Wheelan informed the university system Tuesday morning after reviewing a comparability study in which university officials examined every program and class at the unauthorized programs. About 20 officials from NCCU and the UNC system helped put the study together, assisted by advisers from outside the university.

Wheelan said she was convinced the education received by students at the New Birth campus was the same as what a student at the main campus in Durham would receive. The university taught courses in hospitality and tourism, business administration and criminal justice at the Georgia campus.

NCCU must still find ways for at least 45 students who were still enrolled at the New Birth campus to finish their educations, and Wheelan's agency is keeping an eye on that, she said. In all, 125 students took courses there.

"Our commitment is to make sure we meet our obligation to respond to the needs of all the students," Nelms said.

Other damage has likely been done. Earlier this month, UNC system President Erskine Bowles said he expects NCCU will have to pay back federal financial aid it received from the federal Department of Education and doled out to students.

NCCU did not tell the accrediting agency of the New Birth program when creating it in 2004. Its origins are still not clear, and Bowles has said all the details may never be known.

The state auditor's office is investigating as well.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or (919) 932-2008

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