Saving Baltimore International College: Affiliation with Stratford University looks promising

Our view: Proposed deal with Virginia university not a finished dish, but it looks inviting

August 15, 2011

The plan announced Monday to save Baltimore International College is not a finished dish. But it is in the oven — and it has the whiff of something promising.

Baltimore International College, which over the last four decades has produced scores of culinary workers for area restaurants, has agreed to become affiliated with Virginia-based Stratford University, a move designed to avert an accreditation crisis that had threatened to close the downtown college. The proposal calls for students to continue going to classes as Baltimore International students, until Jan. 1. After that date, classes will continue under the auspices of Stratford University.

The proposed deal needs the approval of the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the financial institutions holding the college's debt, as well as accreditation organizations. Stratford officials have already filed a voluminous application with the higher ed commission, which — along with the fact that there are no significant existing culinary education programs in Baltimore area — increases the likelihood of approval by Jan. 1.

We hope that happens. BIC, as it is called by the locals, got itself in hot water with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, but its mission — preparing students for jobs in the hospitality and culinary industries — is worth saving.

Prior administrators apparently neglected consistent warnings by Middle States Commission officials to adhere to the commission's academic and organizational guidelines. That lapse is befuddling. But through the years, BIC graduates continued to staff area kitchens and restaurants. That is an important measure of success.

In a tough economy, jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industry are one of the few bright spots. The restaurant industry is the nation's second-largest private sector employer, with its work force of 12.8 million. The industry is projected to increase by 1.3 million positions, reaching 14.1 million, in the next decade, according to a recent report by the National Restaurant Association.

As outlined in the proposal, the school would become a branch of Stratford and would fall under the auspices of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools and the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation, organizations that now accredit Stratford. These organizations, accustomed to certifying job-specific training programs, seem a more appropriate overseer of the work of Baltimore International College.

Once the school gets a reprieve, it still needs to make some changes. In addition to paying close attention to educational guidelines, it needs to cultivate its alumni. One telling finding of the Middle States Commission review was that the college had few avenues of revenue other than student tuition. It runs two hotels, the Mount Vernon Hotel at West Franklin and Cathedral streets, and the Hopkins Inn on the 3400 block of St. Paul Street. These generate some funds, as well training for students, but the revenue they provide is not a substitute for a strong program of alumni giving. Some of the college's estimated $20 million in real estate assets will probably be sold to pay down debt. The Bay Atlantic Club on Redwood Street and its hotel in Ireland are likely candidates for new landlords.

For the students and faculty, the proposed deal offers some certitude. As proposed, the plan would allow seniors to graduate on time. Once the deal is approved, the college will again begin recruiting new students. Stratford President Richard Shurtz told The Sun's Childs Walker that his plan was to retain much of the current BIC faculty and fold them into the Stratford ranks.

Clusters of culinary students, in their distinctive checked pants and white jackets, have become a part of the downtown Baltimore landscape. The proposed deal with Stratford University could solve many of the college's institutional problems, and will keep these students on track and eligible for jobs in area kitchens.

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