Eronini Egbujor teaches French class at Paine College on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Augusta. (Curtis Compton / firstname.lastname@example.org)
Morris Brown had a fund balance of about $1.9 million in 2018, the following year’s federal tax records show. The college was in the red the prior year. Paine, which court records show had a $10 million shortfall in 2014, had a $3 million operating budget surplus over the last five years, Eaton said.
Federal statistics show college enrollment declined nationally by about 100,000 students to about 19.6 million in 2018, the most recent year available. Some reports show a national decrease this fall, which education leaders attribute to the coronavirus pandemic. Experts have raised concerns about the future of smaller, private liberal arts schools like these because of the national decline.
Student leaders have heard the questions about why enroll at a school with accreditation issues. They and others say education was not the problem. It was financial. Morris Brown student government association president Jacqueline Flournoy has offered campus tours. Things have changed, they say.
“I need y’all to do your research first before trying to put down Morris Brown,” Flournoy said she tells the skeptics and the curious.
Morris Brown suffered from ballooning debt. To keep the college financially afloat, some administrators committed fraud, including obtaining loans on behalf of students who were unaware that the college had applied for financial aid in their names. One former president pleaded guilty to embezzlement and was sentenced in 2007 to five years’ probation, including a year of home confinement.
Paine’s net assets were in the red four consecutive years, SACS said. Paine supporters have said there were poor financial decisions, such as the short-lived attempt to start a football team.
ExploreTiny Paine College in Augusta is looking for a lifeline
Both schools were founded in the late 19th century to educate Black students. Morris Brown was founded by the Georgia Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881. It was the first historically Black college in Georgia founded by African Americans. Paine was founded in 1882 by Methodist church leaders, Black and white, with donations — including pennies from former slaves.
Leaders of both colleges have been encouraging each other through their accreditation bids. DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Michael Thurmond, a Paine alum, said he’s spoken to some Morris Brown graduates about supporting their college through the accreditation process.
“You have to tip your hat to Morris Brown. They did not give up. They kept the faith,” said Thurmond, Paine’s board chair-elect.
DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Michael Thurmond is a Paine College graduate and is chairman-elect of its board of trustees. Thurmond, pictured here in the college’s 1975 yearbook, has been involved in the school’s accreditation effort. (Courtesy of Paine College)
Paine and SACS battled through the courts when the agency first put the college on probation in 2014. The legal dispute is unresolved. Amid that fight, the college decided to seek its accreditation through TRACS.
TRACS reviews several federal requirements and those of its own during the accreditation process. They include the governing board structure, faculty educational credentials, health and safety rules, student privacy management, transfer credit policy and financial records. The application process typically takes at least two years, if approved.
ExplorePaine College announces new path to keep accreditation
Cheryl Evans Jones, who became Paine’s president last year, said the college cut spending with decisions such as eliminating academic programs, like chemistry, with low enrollments.
TRACS, which has 90 member colleges and universities nationwide, visited Paine in July. LaShawn Doolittle, a junior, was part of a group of students who answered their questions. After filing for bankruptcy, Doolittle, 52, an Augusta resident, decided she needed to enhance her resume and applied to Paine. The school in 2017 gave her son, Savon, a baseball scholarship.
“They took a chance on me and I didn’t want to disappoint them,” said Doolittle, who cried joyfully when the accreditation was approved.
LaShawn Doolittle sits on the Paine College campus in Augusta on Nov. 19, 2020. Doolittle, 52, decided to enroll at Paine after the college gave her son, Savon, a baseball scholarship. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.
Paine must give a progress report in February, Eaton said.
Jones said the college is exploring ideas to strengthen its academic programming and finances, such as offering more distance education, particularly in cybersecurity.
Morris Brown College student Jacqueline Flournoy poses with college President Kevin James in October during homecoming weekend. Flournoy was crowned Miss Morris Brown College. Flournoy, the student government association president, has dreamed of studying there since she was 9. (Courtesy of Jacqueline Flournoy)
Credit: Courtesy of Jacqueline Flournoy
Credit: Courtesy of Jacqueline Flournoy
Flournoy, 21, the student government president, was crowned Miss Morris Brown during homecoming weekend in October. She dreamed of going to the college since she was 9. Her mother and grandfather are some of the family members who are graduates. She successfully recruited her best friend, who later joined the military.
Morris Brown President Kevin James said the key is to show financial stability. The school, which currently has about 55 students, set a $500,000 fundraising goal during its October homecoming to put in its bank account. Officials said they raised $550,000.
The tough financial lessons of the past have been learned, leaders at both colleges say.
“It’s nothing like a near-death experience to clear the mind,” said Thurmond.
Ms. Chellita Carlyle buys a Straight Outta Paine shirt during a college spirit event on the campus at Paine College on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Augusta. (Curtis Compton / email@example.com)