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Maurice Brown College is recovering after the resumption of accreditation

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Maurice Brown College is recovering after the resumption of accreditation

When Kevin James became president of Maurice Brown College in 2019, people thought he was “absolutely crazy” for his job. College was uncredited for almost two decades. It declared bankruptcy and was forced to sell out much of the Atlanta campus as enrollment has shrunk to a few dozen students. James said he had more money on his first day at work in a personal bank account than in college.

Three years later, he feels justified when a private historically black college celebrates this return to full accreditation. Last week, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS), an accreditor of religious institutions from Virginia, blessed the college. Maurice Brown’s students can now use federal financial aid to pay for their education and get accredited degrees – for the first time in 20 years they have a legal opportunity to do so.

“The loss of students, the loss of land, the loss of reputation … We were in a very bad state,” James said. “In about three years we have been able to turn the school around and prove to our accreditor, TRACS, that we are a quality institution under this new administration.”

Timothy Ethan, president of TRACS, said the accreditor had been in talks with Maurice Brown for at least ten years. He praised the college’s efforts at the “right size” in recent years – cutting course and program offerings – to become more financially sustainable. The College was evaluated based on a number of factors including faculty experience, financial operations best practices and the functionality of its administration and board.

“An old saying: success is a bad teacher,” Ethan said. “The best teacher is a failure … For those people who really love the institution, who love the vision of the institution, who did not want the institution to die – those graduates, management, managers, teachers, those people who really cared about the institute – to be honest, I think they learned from the failures of the past. ”

The struggle for revival besieged Maurice Brown was not easy, and it was not over. The college lost its previous accreditation from the College Commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 2002 when the former president and director of financial aid appropriated funds from the US Department of Education. The college owed the department millions of dollars and ten years later filed for bankruptcy. According to James, the number of students after losing accreditation generally ranged from 20 to 50 students. The remaining students, who often stayed because of family ties to the college or a connection to its founder, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, had to go on payment plans by paying out-of-pocket installments for non-accredited degrees.

Edward Smith-Lewis, vice president of strategic partnership and institutional programs for the United Negro College Foundation, said the resumption of Maurice Brown’s accreditation was an important signal to HBCU across the country. For many, obtaining a probationary period or losing accreditation is a “death sentence” because 75 percent of HBCU students have low incomes and are unable to attend a college that cannot offer financial aid. HBCUs are heavily dependent on tuition fees, which make up a significant portion of their revenue.

Smith-Lewis said senior executives were skeptical of Maurice Brown trying to remake himself and regain accreditation.

“The fact that they did it, and they did it so well, and they did it so publicly – it’s just a moment of excitement for higher education and HBCU in general,” he said.

Jethro Joseph, president of the College Alumni Association, said he believes the college will return in better times. He received a bachelor’s degree in accounting with a minor in mathematics in 1969. Joseph described the culture of the campus while “educational,” above all, with deep connections between students and faculty.

He and other graduates were raising money to help get the college back on its feet, so the return of accreditation was a “hallelujah moment,” he said.

“In the end, I knew we would win. I prayed a lot, worked a lot, did not give up. I knew that at the end of the day Maurice Brown would come out of victory. “

But he understands that accreditation is just a “renewal” and that the college is still ahead.

Smith-Lewis said that when UNCF works with HBCU to fight for accreditation, colleges are encouraged to take one of the first steps to increase enrollment and compliance and improve data collection to track progress on these indicators. College leaders are also forced to think more strategically about how to make better use of their limited resources.

When they do that, “they find that they can use the low resources that they have to do properly as students, and so they do well with accreditation,” he said. “Some of the problems associated with accreditation are often a response to attempts to keep up with a higher education model that no longer works for low-income students or low-resource institutions.”

Maurice Brown’s leaders are now launching new strategies to increase the number of entrants. The number of enrolled students – 68 this spring – has tripled in the last two years, but meager compared to previous peak of 3,000 students. Although the college cannot afford to send recruits across the country, James said graduates are mobilizing to help recruit prospective students. A new vice president of recruitment and student service management was recently hired. The college also produced television commercials that aired in the southeastern United States. Free advertisements are broadcast on various radio stations on behalf of the college.

James also believes that the news of the re-accreditation of the college will be “our billboard.” He said dozens of prospective students had applied to show interest within a week of the announcement.

“Right now we are going viral,” he said. “So many people are calling. So many people write emails saying, “Wow, I can’t believe you did that. I want to know more about Maurice Brown. “

College administrators are already preparing to serve more students, but with a much smaller campus consisting of just three buildings. Online courses will be crucial to “our recovery and our resurrection,” James said. He hopes to eventually offer degree programs online. The college is also raising funds for the “complete renovation” of its historic fountain hall, an iconic national landmark and an educational building, originally built in 1882, which is expected to cost $ 30 million.

At the same time, students will have to go through a process of financial aid because the college has not offered tuition or financial aid for so long. The vice president of administration and financial aid, hired last year to prepare for accreditation, will now lead the effort.

“I knew that financial aid would be a huge obstacle for us,” James said. “I knew I would need her to get us out of the grave, so to speak, about it. We lost financial aid; we lost accreditation due to mismanagement of financial aid management. So I knew the federal government was really going to put four points and … when it came to our financial aid. “

TRACS will also continue to monitor Maurice Brown for the initial five-year period. Newly accredited colleges are required to report on their budgets and strategic plans and undergo a professional audit each year. The accreditor also oversees the recruitment and finances of the colleges.

The ultimate goal is “an institution that is self-reflecting, self-improving, and ultimately self-healing,” Ethan said.

Paul Gaston, Honored Professor of Trustees at Kent State University, noted that TRACS is distinguished among religious accreditors by its historical commitment to creationism and the requirement that institutions expressions of faith reflecting the “evangelical Protestant tradition”. He wrote a book called Accreditation of higher education: how it changes, why it should be (Stylus Publishing, 2014).

“My question would be, do the convenient institutions that are now seeking accreditation from TRACS join this legacy?” Said Gaston.

Eaton said TRACS is “irreconcilably evangelical,” and the fact that it accredits many creationist institutions is “no secret”.

TRACS also stamped the approval of a number of smaller Christian colleges with low enrollment and graduation, leading some top experts to questions the severity accreditation agency in the past. For example, only at Beulah Heights University in Atlanta 29 percent of students graduated in eight years, and only 31 percent did so at Randall University in Oklahoma, according to a map of U.S. Department of Education colleges. These percentages are well below the national average of eight-year graduation, which is 57 percent at four-year universities.

Eaton acknowledged that TRACS accredits colleges with low alumni rates, but noted that religious institutions accept large numbers of first-generation and low-income students who face unique barriers and are less likely to complete their studies. Most students of TRACS-accredited institutions are eligible for a Pell grant, federal financial aid for low-income students, and a third of colleges and universities are institutions that serve minorities, he said.

“If everyone just took the top 10 percent of high school graduates or students who reached the 90th percentile on their standardized test, then everyone could say we were successful,” he said. “We could all say we are the elite. A denominational institution, we seek access to higher education. We are looking at leveling the playing field. Along with our faith, we consider education one of the most sublime movements in America. ”

He also sees benefits in working with some difficult cases and cited Paul Quinn College as an example of another HBCU that was previously on the limit of deaththat eventually came back after accreditation from TRACS.

James insists that TRACS is as rigorous as any other accreditation agency, and Maurice Brown is confident in his choice. Now he is more focused on the future of the institution, which he says is “very, very bright,” rather than on its troubled past.

He wants Maurice Brown to continue to be the academic “shelter” it once was for students, and to continue to provide them with all the skills they need to be able to go out and compete, as well as enter graduate school and live their dreams. of life, ”he said.

“Now the goal is to develop the institution and provide the education we say we want to provide.”

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