RALEIGH — Financial problems at St. Augustines University have prompted scrutiny by its accrediting body, according to a letter obtained by The News & Observer.
An official from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges wrote to the university on Feb. 28, requesting information about the universitys financial condition, including audit reports, management letters, financial aid audits, a financial statement and pending litigation.
Colleges and universities are scrutinized by SACS every 10 years, but the organization can launch additional review any time new information comes to light. The review was prompted by a Feb. 20 story in The News & Observer that reported the universitys financial problems, the letter said.
I am writing you today because recent information from media sources regarding financial and physical resources have raised questions about Saint Augustines Universitys ongoing compliance with the Principles of Accreditation, wrote Robin Hoffman, vice president of the SACS Commission on Colleges.
The letter was addressed to St. Augs President Dianne Boardley Suber, who had no comment on the matter Wednesday. SACS requested the additional information be submitted no later than Monday of this week. It was unclear Wednesday whether the school met the deadline.
The February N&O story detailed the universitys financial duress, outlined in audits that showed delayed and disorganized accounting functions and questionable check-writing procedures. Financial statements showed a $3 million drop in net tuition revenue last year because of falling enrollment. St. Augs owed overtime payments to workers following a U.S. Department of Labor review. And the university is being sued by the contractor of its unfinished football stadium.
The university has seen dramatic turnover in its administrative ranks, and on March 17, Suber put the provost, Connie Allen, on paid leave. This week, it emerged that federal officials are investigating whether the university improperly sought a grant for minority health research.
St. Augs accreditation was last reaffirmed in 2011 without sanctions. The university was due for another comprehensive review in 2016, according to the SACS website.
SACS monitors colleges and universities for academic quality, financial viability and adherence to standards. If the associations Commission on Colleges finds deficiencies, it can issue a warning, put a school on probation or revoke accreditation altogether. A loss of accreditation often leads to a school closing its doors because it is ineligible for federal money.
If SACS finds that the new financial information is factual and related to accreditation standards, a SACS committee can conduct a formal review or a special committee can be formed to do a review.
Hoffman of SACS did not respond to a phone message or email Wednesday.
In November, SACS also notified the university that it was required to submit a prospectus for a new online masters degree in organizational leadership, because the university is not approved to offer a degree in which half or more of the credits are accomplished through distance learning. The university has begun to market the new degree program, which is set to begin in August.
Graduate degree offerings were part of the plan when St. Augs changed from a college to a university in 2012. The organizational leadership degree will have concentrations in management, sports management and health care administration. It is the first of at least five fully online programs St. Augs plans to offer using an online platform by Pearson, a large education company.
The University has been poised to offer graduate programs for a number of years, Suber said in a news release announcing the graduate program last week. However, the timing now seems right especially online.
But in her November letter, SACS President Belle Wheelan wrote that because the new masters degree appears to be a significant departure from existing approved degree programs, a prospectus is required.
Its unclear whether St. Augs has submitted the prospectus, which is due at least three months before the degree is offered.