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Byrne hopes to heal Bishop State
Declining enrollment 'can't continue'

By Garry Mitchell
Associated Press Writer

MOBILE — Bishop State Community College's enrollment has plunged to about 2,500 students — down from about 5,200 three years ago — amid a financial scandal that two-year colleges Chancellor Bradley Byrne hopes to heal with several new initiatives.

Byrne said Thursday the falling enrollment "can't continue." He blamed it on adverse publicity about a financial scandal that led to a state and federal criminal investigation that's ongoing.

Probation

The college has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS.

Twenty-seven people associated with the college have been accused of stealing more than $200,000 in financial aid and sports program money.

At least 13 employees have been fired.

Byrne said SACS officials will return to the campus Sept. 16-19 to review any changes.

He appointed interim president Dr. James Lowe on Aug. 1, following the retirement of Dr. Yvonne Kennedy, who serves in the Alabama House.

'Project Phoenix'

At a news conference before speaking to faculty and staff Thursday afternoon, Byrne outlined some new education initiatives in his "Project Phoenix" campaign to boost enrollment and confidence in the college.

He also announced the accounting firm Ernst & Young will examine the business office, financial aid office, admissions and records, and information technology division. He said results of that examination will let the public know "we're handling the money right."

Nationally known university management specialist James L. Fisher will conduct an "intensive institutional review." Byrne said Fisher did a similar study of Auburn University in 2005.

And a public relations firm, Mobile-based Sullivan-St. Clair, will spread the word about the "new" Bishop State.

Byrne said he's set aside about $500,000 from the chancellor's discretionary fund for these projects.

His new initiatives include:

  • Renovating the college's Southwest Campus in Mobile, expanding its auto repairs and construction trades programs;

  • Adding facilities to study maritime and manufacturing sciences.

  • Adding instructional sites in the north and south parts of Mobile County.

    Byrne said he hopes the changes over time will build enrollment to 8,000 to 10,000.

    "This is a new college," he said.

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

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