St. Aug’s looking to acquire Virginia college

Negotiations under way to acquire financially struggling St. Paul’s

khui@newsobserver.comNovember 22, 2012 

— St. Augustine’s University is negotiating to acquire St. Paul’s College in Virginia in a bid to save a fellow historically black college that’s in danger of closing.

The executive committees of the boards of trustees of both schools met Tuesday with St. Aug’s agreeing to manage financially ailing St. Paul’s, beginning Jan. 1. If the acquisition goes through, St. Aug’s, which is located near downtown Raleigh, would create a campus at St. Paul’s site about 90 miles away in Lawrenceville, Va.

“The acquisition wasn’t something we set out to do,” said Shelley Willingham-Hinton, a spokeswoman for St. Aug’s, on Wednesday. “We’re saving a sister institution that was struggling.”

St. Aug’s officials said the acquisition is a natural fit for both schools.

Both schools trace their roots to after the Civil War when they were among the three historically black colleges whose founding was influenced by the Episcopal Church.

Founded in 1867, St. Aug’s now has around 1,500 undergraduates. St. Aug’s changed from being a college to a university in August.

St. Paul’s, founded in 1888, has faced mounting debt. The college’s 183-acre campus is in south central Virginia.

Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, a historically black university in New Orleans, called St. Paul’s a regional HBCU that’s not as well known nationally as St. Aug’s.

Kimbrough said the acquisition would be “historic.”

“It’s a novel idea that’s worth considering,” said Kimbrough.

Historically black colleges and universities have been especially hurt by the recession because they attract students with fewer financial resources than college students generally, according to Kimbrough.

In June, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools opted not to renew St. Paul’s accreditation, citing concern about the school’s financial stability. Loss of accreditation meant students wouldn’t be eligible for federal and state aid.

In August, a federal judge granted an injunction allowing St. Paul’s to keep its accreditation while it continued to contest the case in court.

The school opened in September with a stripped-down schedule and only 111 students.

Willingham-Hinton said the acquisition would mean that St. Paul’s would fall under St. Aug’s accreditation.

Officials from St. Paul’s could not be reached for comment Wednesday

But in an article published online Tuesday in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, Millard “Pete” Stith, St. Paul’s vice president for Institutional Advancement, said the consolidation would mean that St. Aug’s is assuming the college’s debt, which he estimated at between $4 million and $5 million.

Financial aid

Willingham-Hinton said several groups have offered financial assistance to help with the acquisition, including the United Negro College Fund and the Colleges and Universities of the Anglican Communion.

“St. Aug’s is financially solid and we don’t have any issues,” Willingham-Hinton said. “That’s (St. Paul’s debt) not really a worry.”

Dianne Suber, president of St. Aug’s, said in a statement Wednesday that the university will explore the deal in a “cautious and responsible manner.”

“Our main responsibility continues to be the on-going health, and viability of Saint Augustine’s University,” Suber said.

Kimbrough, who knows Suber, said he’s confident that St. Aug’s won’t acquire St. Paul unless the deal makes financial sense.

Willingham-Hinton said details of what would be provided at St. Paul’s campus haven’t been worked out yet.

She said the university is reviewing St. Paul’s offerings and may want to keep, for instance, the teacher education program.

St. Paul’s officials have called it a merger, but Willingham-Hinton said it would be an acquisition.

“We’ll rebuild the school with the St. Aug’s brand name,” she said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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