‘We have saved St. Augustine’s.’ Raleigh university removed from probation.

People walk across the main courtyard on the campus of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh.
People walk across the main courtyard on the campus of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh. File photo

St. Augustine’s University is no longer under probation by its accreditation agency, lifting the cloud that had hung over the small historically black college in Raleigh for the last two years.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges had put St. Augustine’s on probation for the past two years, citing financial problems and questions of institutional effectiveness. But the board of trustees of the accreditation body announced Tuesday that it had removed St. Augustine’s from probationary status.

Loss of accreditation could have forced the university to close.

“By God’s grace I am here today and can report to you that we have saved St. Augustine’s University,” university president Everett Ward said at Tuesday’s announcement in the school’s library, as faculty, students and alumni cheered the news.

St. Aug’s, located near downtown Raleigh, has struggled with financial issues for years. Its small size has made it especially vulnerable to enrollment declines, The News & Observer previously reported.

The university has made numerous budget cuts in recent years, such as in 2014 trimming its full-time workforce, not rehiring dozens of adjunct faculty and furloughing employees. In April, the university announced it was laying off 22 employees as part of a restructuring.

Ward said that accreditation agency was impressed by how the university invested $1.7 million in a project addressing its financial processes. He said the university has gone from doing its accounting manually to using software.

Ward also praised the alumni and the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, which founded the school in 1867, for their financial support. He also singled out the faculty and staff for standing by the university.

“I know how hard it has been and you have stood with us in the most difficult times because you never failed to believe that we would not reach this day,” Ward said.

Everett Ward, president of St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, hugs Linda Hubbard Curtis, the vice president of academic affairs, after announcing on Dec. 11, 2018 that the university is no longer under probation from its accreditation agency. T. Keung Hui khui@newsobserver.com

The university will likely never have as many employees as it had before, Ward said. But he said there will be targeted hiring of faculty in specific program areas.

Ward, a St. Aug’s alumnus, former state Department of Transportation administrator and executive director of the state Democratic Party, became president of the university in 2014. His predecessor, Dianne Boardley Suber, was forced out by the university’s board amid financial problems, enrollment declines, staff cuts and a construction lawsuit, the N&O previously reported.

University officials said that enrollment now stands at 767 students, down from between 970 and 980 last school year. Ward blamed the drop on news reports just before the start of the school year that said the university may be closing.

“Now that we have no issues with accreditation, the sky’s the limit.” Ward said.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.