Saint Augustine’s University has its accreditation appeal denied, school plans to file lawsuit

Saint Augustine’s University learned on Tuesday that its accreditation appeal was denied.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission’s [SACSCOC] Appeals Committee upheld the board’s decision to revoke accreditation for the Raleigh-based school, which has struggled with financial management issues.

The appeals committee listed several reasons to uphold the board’s decision. Specifically, the committee listed reasons outlined in the “Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement.” The reasons included:

  • Governing board characteristics
  • Financial resources
  • Financial documents
  • Financial responsibility
  • Control of finances
  • Federal and state responsibilities

“Further, the Appeals Committee Found that the institution failed to to meet the provisions of Good Cause,” the committee posted in a two-page document.

Saint Augustine’s University has until March 8 to send a notice of intent to arbitrate the decision, according to the SACSCOC.

“We disagree with the decision made by [the] SACSCOC and plan to appeal to a higher authority with evidence supporting the institution’s progress in resolving non-compliance,” said the university’s Interim President Dr. Marcus Burgess. “We will move quickly to file a lawsuit against [the] 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.”

Lawyers representing the university plan to file an injunction, requesting that courts weigh in on the case. The university claims that during the injunction, it will remain accredited.

On Tuesday, Saint Augustine’s University leadership said the board’s decision was “arbitrary,” “unreasonable” and not “consistent” with the accreditation criteria.

“Despite testimony and evidence supporting a case for significant improvement and the potential to remedy deficiencies, [the] SACSCOC decided to uphold its decision to remove SAU from membership and denied an extension of Probation for Good Cause until December 2025,” Saint Augustine’s University leadership wrote in a statement.

Peter Ewell, president emeritus of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, explained, “It’s only very rare that an accreditor actually takes action to bar an institution from accreditation,” Ewell said. “Financial issues or board impropriety are the most common issues the [SACSCOC] considers for a school.”

Ewell said losing accreditation means Saint Augustine’s University can’t accept federal funds and can’t use Title IV funds for student financial aid.

“For a private institution, that’s pretty consequential,” Ewell said. “The big damage is really to the institution’s reputation.

“If they lose this, it’s very hard to recover from in terms of attracting students [and] attracting new faculty.”

Last week, Burgess admitted the school is in a “very dire” situation, but said it will not shut down even as it fights to maintain its accreditation.

In December 2023, Burgess became interim president after the board fired president Christine Johnson-McPhail.

WRAL News learned Saint Augustine’s University failed to pay its employees on time several times over the last few months. It includes the payroll on Feb. 9.

On Feb. 19, Burgess said employees have now been paid. However, he said meeting payroll will still be a challenge as the university faces a cashflow problem.

Burgess says the university has hired a financial consulting team and is meeting with the IRS and others who are owed money.

Saint Augustine’s University students and alums met on Feb. 18 for a vigil at the school’s chapel.

In February, families of students told WRAL News their children hadn’t received tuition refund checks, with one family saying their child hadn’t received one in the fall semester either.


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