A Week After Losing Its Accreditation, the Fate of Paul Quinn College Still Up in the Air

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More questions than answers remain about the future of Paul Quinn College a week after its president announced the institution's loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Michael Sorrell last Friday explained to gathered students, alumni and reporters that he would be unable to discuss specifics until he received a formal letter from SACS detailing its decision. Sorrell said only that college officials would appeal the decision, and he refused to speculate on what would happen to the Paul Quinn if the appeal were unsuccessful.

The college will have 10 days to formulate and submit an appeal after officials receive the letter.

But has the school gotten the letter? Paul Quinn's communications director, Cheryl Smith, told Unfair Park yesterday that she hadn't spoken with the president on Thursday but that "as of two days ago, we had not received the letter." Sorrell has not returned our calls throughout the week.

We did, however, hear from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"The letter has been sent," Tom Benberg, chief of staff of the Commission on Colleges at SACS, tells Unfair Park. He says the letter went out earlier this week, but he adds he can't be certain of the exact date because he's traveling. Of this much, though, he's quite certain: Benberg says Paul Quinn College has been on probation since June 2007, and at the end of the two-year probation period, says Benberg, "they did not meet the commission standards for institutional effectiveness and financial resources." (Those can be found on Pages 25 and 30 in this document.)

Perhaps the most damaging consequence for a college that loses its accreditation is that the school is no longer eligible for student financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education.

"That usually hits the college pretty hard," Benberg says. "The other thing is that students and faculty are hesitant to attend a college that is not accredited."

The Commission on College's decision to drop Paul Quinn was not hastily made, says Benberg. "It's very serious. It's the last thing they want to do."

Michael Sorrell has said he is "confident" that Paul Quinn will be successful when it appeals the SACS's decision. Last Friday, Sorrell wrote on the college's blog that "schools that have a 600% increase in applications, eliminate more than $800,000 in debt over the course of the last six weeks, increase donations by 90% in two years and produce a quarter million dollar surplus in the worst economy since the Great Depression deserve the opportunity to finish the work they have started."

But Benberg says the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools's decision is not based on how much a college has improved.  "It's based on whether you meet the standard or not," says Benberg.

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