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Wilberforce U. placed on probation for failing to meet accreditation standards

University ran a deficit of more than $19M in fiscal year 2017

Financial problems and and a lack of strategic planning are putting Wilberforce University at risk of losing its accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

In a July 9 letter to Wilberforce president Elfred Pinkard, HLC president Barbara Gellman-Danley placed the university on probation after it failed to meet all of the commission’s criteria for accreditation including failing to have the resources to maintain its programs and a lack of “systematic and integrated planning.”

The university ran a deficit of more than $19 million in fiscal year 2017 and has audited net assets of around $9.4 million, according to the letter

“The financial stability of the institution is at risk,” the letter states.

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Wilberforce —the oldest private historically black college in the U.S. — must undergo an evaluation by the HLC no later than December 2019 to determine whether it has fixed the problems that led it to be placed on probation. If the issues have not been solved, the commission may consider taking further action, according to the letter.

If the college loses its accreditation, its students would no longer be eligible for federal financial aid.

The HLC is a regional accrediting body and is responsible for accrediting colleges in 19 states. The university is required to notify students, staff, faculty and board members of its probation, according to the HLC letter.

Pinkard called the HLC’s decision “disappointing” but said it “was not completely unexpected.”

“The decision will serve as an additional impetus to continue the work already begun in right sizing Wilberforce University and permanently establishing best practices in fiscal management and controls,” Pinkard said in a prepared statement.

A spokesman for the HLC declined to comment on Wilberforce’s probation.

Along with running a deficit in FY 2017, Wilberforce University has also failed to submit bond payments, is on “heightened cash monitoring” by the U.S. Department of Education and lacks the capacity to prepare financial statements for an annual audit, according to the letter.

Wilberforce University was also cited by the HLC for its strategic planning process. The university’s newly implemented 2017 strategic plan “is not fully developed” and does not have “measurable outcomes, goals and timelines,” according to the letter. The university also didn’t provide any evidence that it “evaluates operations, planning and budgeting.”

This isn’t the first time Wilberforce has been in danger of losing its accreditation.

From mid-2014 through most of 2015, the university was at risk of losing its accreditation because of declining enrollment. The school was issued a “show cause” order from the HLC that was later lifted in November 2015.

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Enrollment has since improved and this year the university said it expects to bring in its largest class in recent history with around 300 freshmen. Last year, the university’s freshman class was close to 135 students and the entire undergraduate student body was around 484 students.

Financial problems have also been a constant concern for Wilberforce officials over the last few years.

The school slashed $750,000 from its payroll and months later then-president Herman Felton put 10 acres of the campus —including two buildings —up for sale for $7 million. But, president Elfred Pinkard has scrapped plans to sell a portion of campus because they were not “advantageous for the university,” he said.

More recently the university has become the target of lawsuits claiming the school owes companies money. Moraine-based Moonlight Security filed a $50,000 lawsuit against the school in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court while JayCee Development in Washington, D.C. sued the university in federal court for more than $3 million for unpaid construction work.

“They’re unfortunate and they’re in the hands of our attorney and we will respond accordingly,” Pinkard said. “We’re saddened that its gotten to this point but we just recognize that this is just part of doing business and we hope to resolve these matters because we don’t want them hanging over us.”

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