Saint Augustine's University accreditation appeal denied; 'It hurts,' alums say

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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Saint Augustine's accreditation terminated, lawsuit likely
The decision comes a week after the university presented its case to keep accreditation.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Saint Augustine's University lost its accreditation appeal Tuesday.

The university was on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Board of Trustees. Back in December, the SACSCOC voted to remove Saint Augustine's status as an accredited institution.

On Feb. 20, the school had an appeals hearing with the Board of Trustees. The committee that heard that appeal rendered the decision Tuesday.

"A SACSCOC Appeals Committee of the College Delegate Assembly unanimously affirmed the December 3, 2023, decision of the SACSCOC Board of Trustees to terminate the accreditation of Saint Augustine's University, Raleigh, North Carolina. The Appeals Committee found the SACSCOC Board of Trustees' decision to be reasonable, not arbitrary, and based on the standards cited," the decision began.

The ruling has left students and parents confused and desperate for answers.

"It's very, very scary to me. I was hoping to graduate this year, but with the school and accreditation, I don't know what to do," student Nicholas Castro said.

"It's sad for our children, sad for us as people. It shouldn't have gotten to this point. Now we have to figure our way out of this if there's a way out of this," parent Andrea Parham said.

Representatives with Saint Augustine's said they disagreed with the board's ruling, saying they felt the decision was arbitrary, unreasonable and inconsistent with the board's policies.

"We disagree with the decision made by SACSCOC and plan to appeal to a higher authority with evidence supporting the institution's progress in resolving non-compliance," said SAU Interim President Dr. Marcus H. Burgess. "We will move quickly to file a lawsuit against SACSCOC seeking an injunction that, if granted, will allow Saint Augustine's University to remain accredited with SACSCOC on Probation for Good Cause until the conclusion of litigation."

A representative for SACSCOS said SAU had 10 days to formally indicate their intention to enter into legal arbitration over the ruling. In the meantime, the school still technically retains its status as accredited but on probation.

One major concern for students is financial aid because students at schools that are not accredited are not eligible to received financial aid. That is a huge concern as 85% of the SAU student body receives financial aid.

SEE ALSO | $10M missing from Saint Augustine's financial records, new audit documents reveal

New financial documents obtained by the ABC11 I-Team show a recent audit revealed money mismanagement at Saint Augustine's University.

Legacy in danger

"I grew up on the campus. My dad was the head of the science department. For 30 years. I've had brothers and cousins graduate from there. It's been a legacy in our family," Benjamin Johnson graduated from SAU in 1983.

His parents went to SAU too. That's how they met.

Johnson's wife, Veronica Scott-Johnson, has deep roots too. She was one of the last babies born at St. Agnus, a hospital on campus, back in 1960. All that's left of the hospital is walls on the campus if you drive by today.

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St. Agnes Hospital April 29, 1961
Source: Saint Augustine's College Archive

"You don't know Raleigh without Saint Aug's because it's been here since what 1867?" Scott-Johnson said.

When the three found out Tuesday that SAU had lost its accreditation, it was heartbreaking. The news hit Alexander especially hard, as he lost his mother just the day before at the age of 95.

"To hear this on top of my mother's passing, she was as a graduate and a very proud graduate of Saint Augustine's, yeah it hurts. It hurts," Alexander said.

While the school is facing serious financial issues and now a battle retain its accreditation, the love for the university just doesn't waiver, even with the future remaining uncertain.

The first nursing school in North Carolina for African Americans is now just a shell of its former self.

"It hurt very deeply it but it also meant that I needed to roll up my sleeves. I've had my sleeves rolled up, ready to go to work. I can't imagine the doors at St Augustine's closing and trying to do everything to make sure that that doesn't happen," Johnson said.

Johnson added that the spirit of SAU is perseverance, and that's exactly what you can expect from alumni like Johnson moving forward.

Payroll Issues

The university has been facing payroll issues since February 9 when employees did not get paid.

This led university leaders to hold a candlelight vigil as an attempt to build back up through hope and faith. The vigil aimed to show students and staff that there is a strong community around them.

Financial Woes

ABC11 uncovered documents on February 16 just how bad the financial situation at the university is.

For example, Wellfleet Insurance Company is suing the university stating it breached contract by failing to pay premiums.

The policy took effect in August 2021 and it was signed to cover student health insurance plans. Records show the lawsuit was filed in August 2023.

Wellfleet said Saint Augustine's owes it $439,000 after making partial payments of $240,000.

ABC11 also obtained a document that revealed in October of last year the university took out a $ 7 million line of credit with Arkansas-based Bank Ozk, Burgess said the university only received $4.5 million of that money.

New financial documents show the HBCU apparently had issues with money management for years. An audit shows during the 2021 fiscal year that the university had $10 million that's considered unsupported.

Games Go On

The first men's game of the 2024 CIAA basketball tournament was Monday night with Saint Augustine's losing to Bluefield State. The women's team will play today.

Last Monday, Burgess said that it would be a challenge to get students to the tournament because of financial constraints. He told ABC11 that the university's request for a loan from a bank was denied.

"We got denied because of the press..the negative press," said Burgess. "The financial instability. Now, on one hand, it makes sense right? We've got IRS problems. We've got problems all over the place."