St. Augustine's fires back at 'misleading' HBCU newsletter that predicts university's closure

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- The coming fall semester will be a critical one for St. Augustine's future as an accredited university, but the school's president is dismissing any talk of shutting down.

In an interview with ABC11, school president Everett Ward speaks head-on against an article posted online this week by HBCU Digest with a headline reading "Saint Augustine's is on the verge of closure, trustees and consultants fear."

"If you read the article you'd think the gates are locked, the lights are out, the faculty's gone and there are no students," Ward told ABC11. "That is a total misrepresentation of what's happening."

According to its website, HBCU Digest is "an industry leader for curating and breaking news in the HBCU sector." (HBCU stands for Historic Black Colleges and Universities). The Digest also promotes itself as being "widely read" by university administrators, accreditation executives, federal officials, and "affluent HBCU alumni."

The article cited anonymous sources and posts internal university emails that include budget figures and enrollment numbers.

While acknowledging the documents are authentic, Ward blasted the use of those documents because he said they're out of context and incomplete.

"We had some challenges, but we're on an upward trajectory," Ward said. "We are very confident in our future."

An ABC11 fact-check of the article did find at least one significant statistical error, but the article is correct in citing St. Augustine's precarious situation related to its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOS).

A Disclosure Statement from the Commission confirms St. Augustine's accreditation is classified as "On Probation" because of past financial issues.

The Commission's president, Belle Wheelan, said a vote will be held in December on whether or not to fully reinstate the full accreditation or revoke it altogether.

"This is a very serious time for them," Wheelan told ABC11, and she added that losing accreditation means losing federal funding. "St. Augustine's has a lot to prove."

Ward, however, said his staff is up to the task and will be "fully prepared" when a SACSCOS team visits the campus in the fall, and he's confident he'll provide accreditors with evidence showing the university is back on solid financial footing.

"One of our special campaigns was to raise $2 million, and we raised $2.3 million. The number of donors is growing. Alumni and friends of the university are really answering the call."
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