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SACS places Bishop State on probation

MOBILE (AP) — An accrediting organization has placed Bishop State Community College on probation for six months, citing a lack of qualified academic and administrative leaders.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, acted after a state investigation of the two-year college found “grade fraud” and “virtually nonexistent” supervision of the financial aid system.

If Bishop State’s problems related to the probation are not corrected, the school eventually could lose its accreditation, Belle S. Wheelan, president of the SACS Commission on Colleges, told the Press-Register for a story Saturday.

It’s rare for universities or colleges to lose their accreditation.

Review in six months

Wheelan said that after the six-month probationary period ends in June 2007, SACS will review Bishop State again. At that point, the college could be taken off probation or given another probationary period of six or 12 months.

SACS is the accrediting organization for 11 states in the Southeast. Accreditation is meant to guarantee academic quality. While a school isn’t required to be accredited, its students cannot receive federal aid, and some other institutions won’t accept their credits or degrees, if the school is not.

Wheelan said the Mobile two-year college was put on probation for violating four separate SACS rules. One of those rules requires that “the institution has qualified administrative and academic officers with the experience, competence and capacity to lead the students.”

Wheelan said the top administrative positions at Bishop State would fall into that group.

Three of the nine Alabama state school board members have called for Bishop State President Yvonne Kennedy to step down, but the state board has taken no action to remove her.

Bishop State spokesman Herb Jordan told the Press-Register that Kennedy would not answer questions Friday, but Jordan released a brief statement he said she had written.

The statement said that in light of problems at Bishop State earlier in the year, the SACS probation was “understandable,” and the college was already working to address the problems cited by the Decatur, Ga.-based institution.

Changes coming

Thomas Corts, interim chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system, said the system team that investigated Bishop State made findings about the school’s administration similar to those of SACS, but Corts declined to say who he thought should be replaced.

The team found some thinness within the administrative ranks, Corts said.

Corts said there will likely be “changes in people and offices” at Bishop State but did not say who would be removed or replaced.

Six people — three of whom are Bishop State employees on paid leave — have been charged with the theft of more than $75,000 in financial aid money by the Mobile County district attorney’s office. The U.S. Department of Education also has demanded that the school return $150,000 in allegedly misspent aid and put Bishop State on “heightened cash monitoring.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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