State puts a college on notice Sojourner-Douglass must stop enrolling new students

August 21, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

State officials have ordered Sojourner-Douglass College in East Baltimore to stop enrolling new students for three months and are threatening to close down the college unless it can provide evidence of financial stability.

State higher education Secretary Shaila R. Aery this week instructed Sojourner-Douglass to stop soliciting or enrolling new students until Nov. 20. If an audit of the school's finances is not submitted by then, the college's license to operate will be revoked, Dr. Aery said.

In a similar order, Dr. Aery also gave 2-year-old Potomac College in Rockville 90 days to correct several deficiencies -- including inadequate staffing and instruction -- or lose its license to operate. Potomac, too, is precluded from enrolling new students until the problems are corrected.

Sojourner-Douglass, a small, predominantly black liberal arts school, has been plagued by financial problems for several years and has been under scrutiny from both federal and state regulators.

The college was cited this week for not producing a financial audit for fiscal 1992, which ended more than 13 months ago. The audit was supposed to have been completed by last Dec. 1, although the state later extended the deadline until this past July 30.

Coopers and Lybrand, a national accounting firm that had been hired to do the audit, resigned because of problems obtaining financial documents from the college, state officials said.

Herb Singleton, an assistant to the president at Sojourner-Douglass, said that the college was set back by the pullout of the Coopers firm andintends to have an audit completed by another firm by mid-October.

He said the college was hurt by the recession but remains financially stable. Enrollment declined from a high of 479 in 1985 to 193 in 1991, but inched back up to 218 last year.

Mr. Singleton noted that a series of financial examinations by state auditors in the last few years had turned up nothing improper.

The college was hit last December with federal tax liens totaling more than $191,000 after failing to pay Social Security and other taxes. The college has since worked out a schedule with the Internal Revenue Service to repay the back taxes.

Federal officials also have threatened the college with the loss of eligibility for federal student grants because of the poor repayment record of Sojourner-Douglass students.

State officials acknowledged that Sojourner-Douglass has corrected all of the nonfinancial problems cited in January by an evaluation team. The college, for example, hired an experienced, full-time financial officer and wrote job descriptions for its employees to correct two of the problems cited by state evaluators.

"Sojourner-Douglass is to be commended for its efforts in correcting those deficiencies," concluded a report prepared in June by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

"However, great concern remains regarding the adequacy both of [the] college's financial resources and its ability to exercise financial planning practices appropriate to ensure the stability of the institution."

The 20-year-old college, which is located in the 500 block of N. Caroline St., offers evening and weekend classes in administration, social work, criminal justice, gerontology, psychology and early-childhood education.

Potomac College, which enrolled its first students in February 1992, was cited for several violations of state rules. Officials said that the college, for example, had no full-time faculty, an inadequate library and incomplete student transcripts. The college also has relied too heavily on practical experience rather than classroom instruction, and some of the courses are not up to college standards, a state evaluation report concluded.

Ann Weil, Potomac's vice president, said that the college would need more time to respond to the state's report.

"I'm sure that once we have been able to absorb the details, we will be able to correct the deficiencies to the satisfaction of the Maryland Higher Education Commission," Ms. Weil said.

Potomac enrolled 45 students last year in bachelor's programs in management and microcomputer systems management.

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