Tag Archives: Accreditation

Paul Quinn College: To Save or Not to Save

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D.

gasman2009Recently, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) voted to revoke Paul Quinn College’s accreditation, noting financial and academic problems. In the same breath, however, SACS acknowledged the excellent work being done by Paul Quinn’s president Michael Sorrell in recent years. Sorrell plans to appeal the SACS’s decision.

The loss of accreditation at Paul Quinn has been the subject of quite a few editorials and news stories over the past week.  Some editorials call for the support of the institution, noting its contributions to the community, nurturing educational environment, and recent progress.  However, other editorials and news stories have not been so supportive and in fact, have questioned the very existence of the institution.

On Tuesday, June 30, 2009, Mike Hashimoto wrote an editorial in The Dallas Morning News asking why anyone should support Paul Quinn College.  He noted that many in the Dallas area, where the small college is located, were calling for support of the institution.  He wondered why.  When supporters claimed that losing Paul Quinn would lead to increased job loss, Hashimoto countered, “there can’t be more than a relative handful of jobs on that campus.”  When supporters noted the diversity that Paul Quinn brings to the Dallas community, he exclaimed, “Diversity? It’s a historically black college so not really.”  When supporters claimed there would be an educational hole in the community without Paul Quinn, Hashimoto stated, “Hole in the community?  Down to 375 students, I’d argue not a very large one.”

Although Hashimoto makes a few interesting points in his editorial, he is not an informed critic of HBCUs.  He knows nothing about these institutions and their history.  He doesn’t understand the role that Paul Quinn has played in bolstering the lives, economy, and education of its surrounding community for decade upon decade.  Hashimoto doesn’t comprehend that the faculties and staffs at HBCUs offer more diversity than most of their “historically white” counterparts.  Moreover, he fails to realize that there is great diversity among Black Americans — being an historically Black college does not mean an institution lacks diversity in any way, shape, or form!  Hashimoto also fails to recognize the unique environment boasted by most HBCUs — one that nurtures and supports mainly low-income, first generation students regardless of the resources on hand.

What Hashimoto gets right is his assessment of the lack of support in the Dallas community for Paul Quinn.  Given the importance of the institution, it is imperative that both the majority and African American communities get behind the small college and support it regularly and systematically.  My good friend Nelson Bowman, the Director of Development at Prairie View A & M University (another Texas HBCU) often talks about “crisis fundraising” and how HBCUs sometimes fall back on this approach when in difficult situations.  In his words, the approach is  “Give us money or we will have to drop the program, go out of business or fail to provide for people who need us—and it’s going to be your fault.”  One need only recall Morris Brown College and its recent financial woes — resulting in the water company threatening to shut off the institution’s water supply.  Support during a crisis is not enough — if people in the community want the benefits of an institution, they need to support the institution regularly.  And the institution needs to ask for help regularly and not just practice “crisis fundraising.”

In 1872 a small group of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) preachers created Paul Quinn College — one of a handful of AME colleges.  These institutions are unique in that they were created by African Americans for African Americans and in that way they are American treasures that need to be held up as examples of African American agency and forethought.  It’s time for those in the community of Dallas as well as the Paul Quinn alumni to stand up for this institution now during a time of need and later during times of prosperity.

I’m hoping that President Sorrell can convince SACS and others that Paul Quinn College is back on track in terms of its ability to educate young minds.  I’m also hoping that he can keep up the good work being done by the institution and that this good work will be recognized by those in the community and especially the institution’s alumni.  Perhaps even Mr. Hashimoto will take notice.

An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).


Accreditation of Black Colleges: Future Success?

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

On Thursday, June 26, 2008, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) removed Florida A & M University (FAMU) from its list of institutions on accreditation probation.  The historically Black institution seems primed for success, with President James Ammons including all of the campus constituents in his plan for the future of the institution. 

Since Black colleges are found almost exclusively in the Southern and Border states, most of them are accredited by SACS.  In the past, this organization has been criticized for its disproportionate attention to HBCUs [for a thorough discussion of this issue see Understanding Minority Serving Institutions]. For example, between 1996 and 2005, 25 percent of the SACS’ sanctions related to HBCUs, while these institutions make up only 13 percent of SACS’ membership.  In addition, between 1989 and 2007, nearly half of the 20 institutions that lost their accreditation from SACS were historically Black. 

Most reprimands and revocations of accreditation are the result of financial deficits; however, faculty quality, campus infrastructure, and student enrollments play a crucial part in the accreditation process.  Unfortunately, the loss of accreditation often has a snowball effect, making it impossible for an institution to distribute financial aid, leading to a loss of students.  As a result, some of these tuition-driven institutions cannot recover financially, which dooms their chance at reaccreditation.

Of note, the SACS’ Commission on Colleges installed its first African American president, Belle S. Wheelan, in 2005.  The previous president led the organization for 20 years.  Wheelan recognized the past tension between Black colleges and SACS; she has worked to increase communication with and provide educational programming for HBCUs to better their ability to maintain accreditation.  Wheelan has also committed to hiring more Black employees to enhance the image of the organization and improve its relationships with HBCU members. Since Wheelan took office, SACS has placed fewer Black colleges on probation.

In response to the accreditation problems at many HBCUs, the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) established a Black college leadership program in 2004.  It is funded by the Mott and Mellon Foundations and run out of SEF’s Center to Serve Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The initiative provides small grants, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to HBCUs to assist them in maintaining their accreditation.  SEF also provides funding to HBCU leaders to attend the annual SACS conference, hosting a special, day-long conference dedicated to issues faced by HBCUs.  The goal, of course, is that HBCU administrators will gain the tools to succeed and will have the positive working relationships with SACS representatives that lead to open dialogue about accreditation issues.

The majority of the work in maintaining or regaining accreditation falls on the shoulders of HBCUs themselves, however.  HBCU leadership MUST hire the best administrators possible and empower them to do their best work.  These leaders MUST hold the highest standards for their staff and faculty and create working environments in which individuals develop a firm commitment to excellence.

With a new, energized leadership at many institutions and increased attention to the issue of accreditation, HBCUs seem poised for accomplishment.


An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions  (SUNY Press, 2008).


Post Script:  Belle S. Wheelan, the president of SACS’ Commission on Colleges, took issue with my depiction of her leadership of the organization.  She noted that her efforts at SACS have not been directed specifically at HBCUs, but instead at small, private colleges (most of which are HBCUs) that have had difficulty attaining or maintaining accreditation in the past.  She also noted that she herself has made no special efforts on the part of HBCUs and, in fact, does not have a vote in the accreditation process.