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Catholic News Herald

Serving Christ and Connecting Catholics in Western North Carolina

BELMONT — Despite record enrollment and a rising graduation rate, Belmont Abbey College has been placed on a one-year probation by its accrediting agency.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges said the Catholic liberal arts college was placed on probation because it fell short on a compliance standard regarding financial stability. Belmont Abbey College will remain accredited during the year-long probationary period.

“Belmont Abbey College was continued in accreditation for good cause and placed on Probation because SACSCOC’s Board of Trustees determined that while the institution met the conditions for good cause, it had failed to demonstrate compliance with Comprehensive Standard 3.10.1 (Financial stability) of the Principles of Accreditation. This standard expects an institution to demonstrate that it has a recent history of financial stability,” according to a Dec. 14 statement by the agency.

The probation is not related to the core requirement regarding financial stability, but rather a subset related to a pattern in the college’s finances, said Rolando Rivas, communications director for the college.

“We are very confident that the probation is a temporary issue for us. The probation has nothing to do with our academic quality, as we are compliant with their standards and only found non-compliant with one of over 50 standards,” Rivas said.

The problem for the school arises out of its program to educate adult students (aged 23 and older). According to a letter from Dr. William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, revenue from adult students at the Loughridge Center for Continuing and Professional Studies continues to decline at a slightly faster rate than the revenue gains from the traditional program.

The move to place the college on probation came after two years of submitting additional financial reports to the accrediting agency.

“This decline in CCPS program revenue is the primary reason for SACSCOC’s citing CS 3.10.1. Because of this development, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees has placed the College on probation until December 2018,” Thierfelder said in his letter. “We remain accredited for good cause during this period of probation, in recognition of the progress we have already made towards compliance under the standard.”

Probation is the most serious public sanction imposed by SACSCOC short of loss of accreditation.

Belmont Abbey College has experienced record enrollment of traditional students and corresponding revenue increases, improved retention and graduation rates, and reduced operating costs over the past three years.

“We continue to experience unprecedented growth in our traditional student enrollment and are recognized as a top 10 regional private college by U.S. News and World Report and recognized as a top private college in the south by the Princeton Review,” said Rivas, who also noted that the school’s investment in the adult enrollment will take time to have an impact.

Out of 190 schools reviewed during SACSCOC’s Dec. 3 meeting, Belmont Abbey College was among a handful of colleges placed on probation. Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte and Bennett College in Greensboro were also placed on similar year-long probations.

The accrediting agency will next review the college’s status in December. Meanwhile, it will conduct an on-site evaluation of the college’s efforts to address non-compliance.

Officials at Belmont Abbey College plan to meet with the accrediting agency soon to receive their report and share their plan for addressing their concerns, Rivas said.

“We are confident we will be found compliant at next year’s annual meeting and removed from probation,” Rivas said.
— Kimberly Bender, online reporter