Jimena Tavel covers higher education for the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. She is a bilingual journalist with triple nationality: Honduran, Cuban and Costa Rican. Born and raised in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, she moved to Florida when she was 17. She earned her journalism degree from the University of Florida in 2018 and joined the Herald shortly after.
UFA likely to be removed from probation by accrediting body
After representatives from the accrediting body Florida Memorial University visited its Miami Gardens campus last week, South Florida’s only historically black college or university will likely go from probation to full rule in June, a major step that helps to ensure the future of the school.
“It was a very intense process, but when they came out, after seeing the transformation of our university and the growth that has taken place…they were very impressed,” FMU President Jaffus Hardrick said. about the committee visit.
“It’s exciting to be at our university right now,” he added.
Michael Hoefer, vice president of the accrediting body who visited last week with four committee members and has worked with FMU since 2018, was equally optimistic.
“We were very pleasantly surprised at how much the new president and his new staff have transformed the institution,” Hoefer said.
FMU’s problems began in June 2019 when its accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), placed it under “watch” for failing to meet all of its mandatory standards.
This meant that FMU could eventually lose its accreditation, which serves as a national recognition that a university is on solid ground. Accreditation also allows universities to access very important government funds.
In 2020, the accrediting body extended UFA’s oversight status for one year.
After the maximum period allowed to remain under the “supervision” designation expired last summer, SACSCOC lowered FMU’s classification to “probation for a good cause” and arranged for a committee visit on the campus and reassess the situation.
In March, before the visit that took place last week, the university submitted a 263-page report on its progress in addressing the four key issues it had not tracked: baseline requirement 4.1b (Governing Board Characteristics), Standard 13.3 (Financial Accountability Characteristics), Standard 13.4 (Financial Control) and Standard 13.6 (Federal and State Responsibilities).
The root of the problem was that FMU experienced a dramatic drop in enrollment. In 2012, student enrollment peaked at 1,878 and has declined every year since reaching a low of 915 in 2021. In the 2022 school year, enrollment increased slightly to 963 students.
Due to the loss of revenue from declining enrollment, FMU’s board borrowed funds from its endowment to continue operating, a move condemned by SACSCOC. Since then, FMU has increased enrollment and added new revenue streams to improve its financial health.
For the upcoming fall semester, FMU received 10,431 applications, up from 3,279 at the same time last year, a 218% year-over-year increase. Of the 10,431 applications, FMU had accepted 7,618 students on Friday, but not all will enroll.
To turn the tide, FMU cut salaries by 10% for more than 80 employees who earn $60,000 or more, halted 18 undergraduate degree programs, and eliminated 15 faculty positions.
The university also opened a health care program and a social justice institute, and launched a department of innovation, technology and entertainment, which houses an e-sports program and a climate resilience center. It will soon open a cybersecurity technopole, an entrepreneurship center, a degree in sports management, a degree in computer and electrical engineering, a Master of Arts in Teaching and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.
The four-person SACSCOC committee arrived last Tuesday on campus. He interviewed administrators, particularly in finance and admissions, toured facilities and reviewed additional documents, Hardrick said.
During his exit interview with Hardrick on Thursday morning, the SACSCOC committee informed Hardrick that it was noting the SACSCOC board that the FMU had resolved prior issues, which would likely encourage the board to remove his probation.
In June, the SACSCOC Board of Trustees, made up of 77 administrators and scholars from other Southern state colleges and universities, will meet and decide whether FMU will remain on “probation for a good cause” for a second year, enter simply on “probation” for one year, have its accreditation revoked entirely, or be cleared and resume normal operation in full compliance.
Hoefer, vice president of the accreditation body, said site committees typically write a report at the end of their visit, sharing as much information as possible with the board.
“The board is the group that makes the decision, but usually it relies very heavily on the committee report,” he said.