AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — An historically black college lost a lawsuit seeking to preserve its regional accreditation, adding to questions about its future.
A federal judge ruled for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in a lawsuit by Paine College seeking to preserve its accreditation.
Losing accreditation could cut off students’ access to federal financial aid and make it hard for them to have academic credit accepted at other schools. Colleges that lose regional accreditation have often closed in the past. SACS has removed accreditation from a number of historically black colleges and universities, citing their shaky financial status.
The Atlanta-based accrediting agency put Paine on warning in 2011 after financial management problems including lost eligibility for the federal Perkins student loan program. The Augusta Chronicle reported that Paine had lost eligibility for a federal student loan program, hadn’t returned unused financial aid for students who withdrew, issued numerous financial aid checks that bounced and other financial management problems.
Paine was later placed on probation, before SACS voted in 2016 to withdraw Paine’s accreditation. Paine then sued, obtaining an injunction preventing SACS from removing accreditation until the lawsuit was decided.
Paine officials said the college is still accredited by SACS, but it’s unclear how much longer that will be so. SACS told local news outlets that Paine has 30 days to appeal the ruling or lose accreditation.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. rejected all of Paine’s contentions about why SACS was wrong. He found the association had enough evidence to reasonably conclude the college’s financial condition was impaired, although the college said SACS ignored more recent financial statements showing improvements.
“While there may have been conflicting evidence as to Paine’s financial condition, there is no dispute that sufficient evidence existed supporting the committee’s decision,” Thrash ruled.
Paine also is working to secure accreditation from another entity, the Transnational Association of Christian College and Schools, or TRACS, Paine Assistant Vice President for Institutional Advancement Helene T. Carter told the newspaper.