From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Mary Holmes College facing new hurdles

Date 17 Jan 2003 15:40:21 -0500

Note #7569 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Mary Holmes College facing new hurdles
January 17, 2003

Mary Holmes College facing new hurdles after losing accreditation

School explores options, including closing 

by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE - Beleaguered Mary Holmes College, which nearly lost crucial
Presbyterian Church (USA) funding last year, is facing serious problems

The Presbyterian-related racial-ethnic school in West Point, MS, has lost its
accreditation, a development that could lead to the college closing its doors

Mary Holmes officials have appealed last month's decision by the Southern
Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Without accreditation the two-year college would be ineligible to receive
federal funds and students would not have access to grants, loans and other
federal financial assistance, according to the Rev. Floyd Rhodes, interim
associate director for higher education for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A majority of the 256 students at Mary Holmes depends on federal financial
aid to attend the school, he said. The school's accreditation had been placed
on probation prior to last month's action.  

In addition to the option of closing, Rhodes said the school is also
exploring a plan to appeal to other accrediting agencies, in particular a
body focused on accreditation of Christian schools and colleges. 

There has also been discussion of merging with another PC(USA)-related

"There are a lot of 'ifs' about this," said Rhodes. "We don't know exactly
what's going to happen."

Rhodes said if these options fail "then Mary Holmes' board of trustees, I
guess along with the church, will have to decide what to do."

News of the latest dilemma to dog the Mississippi school came during a
meeting of the National Ministries Division Committee (NMDC) on Jan. 16. The
NMDC will report to the General Assembly Council (GAC) later in the week.

"The college has made substantial attempts and improvements," said Donald W.
Robinson, chair of the NMDC's Partnership Subcommittee, who informed NMDC
members of the school's accreditation woes during a subcommittee report. 

Despite these improvements, which included a bolstered student enrollment and
development of a comprehensive fund-raising strategy, Mary Holmes fell short
of complying with accreditation criteria established by SACS.

SACS is the regional body for the accreditation of universities and colleges
in the 11 Southern states. Institutions of higher education are accredited
through SACS' Commission on Colleges.

SACS voted Dec. 7, during its annual meeting, to terminate Mary Holmes'
membership with the Commission on Colleges.

"The concern with SACS was, 'Does the college still have resources to fulfill
its mission?"' Robinson said.

The prospect of Mary Holmes merging with another PC(USA)-related college
involves certain barriers, according to Rhodes.

"They have talked about that," said Rhodes, "but Mary Holmes has a huge debt
(at least $1.5 million) and I don't think another school will want to assume
that debt through a merger."

However, he noted that the PC(USA) owns the property Mary Holmes on which
Mary Holmes sits and could transfer it to another institution "to settle that
account" if the school closes.

Rhodes said Mary Holmes officials have discussed approaching Stillman College
in Tuscaloosa, AL; Belhaven College in Jackson, MS; and Barber-Scotia College
in Concord, NC.

If Mary Holmes was to merge with Stillman, for instance, Rhodes said it could
possibly be used "as a school to prepare students to come over to Stillman
after the second-year in order to get a four-year degree. It could be a
feeder school for whoever (merges with Mary Holmes)." 

But he said, "I don't even know if any of the schools have been contacted."

Rhodes said an appeal hearing could take place in March, but "we are not
certain yet. We haven't heard, neither has Mary Holmes."

Robinson's report said Mary Holmes' accreditation was terminated "for failure
to demonstrate that the institution has an adequate base to accomplish its
purpose at an acceptable level of quality on a continuing basis or to support
all of its programs and for failing to establish that its recent financial
history demonstrates the financial stability essential to its successful

Amid similar concerns last June, the GAC set four conditions for continued
PC(USA) funding of Mary Holmes: a comprehensive fund-raising strategy; a
business plan addressing its financial problems; a vision for changing its
image and mission through new programming; and a 10-percent increase in
enrollment for the fall semester.

Last September, the NMD committee recommended to the GAC that Mary Holmes had
met the goals and should be allowed to continue receiving vital funding from
the annual Christmas Joy Offering, which goes to support the eight
Presbyterian racial-ethnic schools and colleges and to the Board of Pensions
for assistance programs.
The council's Mission Support Services (MSS) Committee, which had worked with
NMDC on a review of the college, concurred with its recommendation, which was
later adopted by the GAC.

The church's contribution through the offering - nearly $300,000 last year -
was viewed as crucial to the survival of the college, whose financial
condition has been compromised in recent years by declining enrollment and a
deterioration of its facilities.

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