WEST FRANKFORT — The end result of a nearly yearlong review of Morthland College has resulted in the college’s accreditation status being changed to accredited under probation.
Tim Eaton, president of the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges — Morthland's accrediting body — said the decision was made during the Accrediting Commission’s fall meeting Oct. 24. The news went live on the TRACS website Monday. Eaton said the reason for the move “basically is financial” and was also in part due to potential compliance issues with federal agencies.
“We have a standard that requires that (those) participating in federal financial aid to be in compliance with the regulations,” Eaton said. “What we’ve determined on putting the institution on probation is that there (is) possible noncompliance.”
Eaton would not go into the specifics that set the review and ultimate decision in motion — though he did say that his team was on the ground in January of last year, before the Department of Education letter in August announcing its emergency action that halted all federal aid dollars from going to the college — but he did say the school will have a year to remedy the problems presented in their report.
“The institution basically will have this school year to demonstrate how they can operate their school given the fact that they currently aren’t using any federal funds,” he said. He said one option for Morthland College would be to forego using any Title IV dollars, also known as federal student aid. He said this is not uncommon for institutions accredited by TRACS, adding that about one-third of the institutions do not use Title IV funds.
Eaton said the probation decision was made because there have only been allegations of noncompliance from the DOE.
“We can’t say they are out of compliance because the process is not finished there,” he said, adding that DOE as well as the Illinois Board of Higher Education — which did an onsite review at Morthland College in September — as well as TRACS are all running concurrent reviews and investigations.
A letter from Daniel Cullen, then-deputy director of IBHE, announced its investigation into the college, citing troubling information delivered in an August letter from DOE.
“The above referenced (Education Department) communication outlines troubling findings related to numerous financial and ethical issues,” Cullen wrote.
This comes after a Jan. 20 letter from the DOE informing the college it had been placed on Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 status after a program review of the college produced “severe findings.” The HCM2 status limited Morthland College’s ability to handle student aid dollars — instead of drawing down financial aid for students from the federal government, covering the costs of a student's education, and eventually cutting a check to the students for the difference, the college had to pay everything up front and provide DOE with documentation of money spent in order to be considered for reimbursement. The complete details of the college’s program review have not yet been released by the DOE.
Eaton said the year probation period is designed to allow maximum fairness to students. He said allowing the college at least the next academic year — no decisions will be made until the commission’s fall 2018 meeting — will let students nearing graduation to finish their coursework.
“It’s not fair to students to stop them in the middle of a semester,” he said.
He said Morthland College can appeal the decision and present materials showing its change in course to the Accreditation Commission prior to the one-year deadline in hopes for a change in status. However, Eaton said with the increased reporting by the college and scrutiny from TRACS as part of the accredited under probation status, all the information will be reported throughout the process.
“Everything that we would consider benchmarks for the 2017-2018 academic year will have been received and processed so we will have a better picture of the institution from all the reporting mechanisms,” he said.
When asked about whether this change in status was anticipated by the college, as well as what it means moving forward both for Morthland College students and the college itself, a representative from the college provided the following statement via email:
“Morthland College has spent the last several months in dialogue with TRACS. As we work to remedy our status with the department of education, there are particular compliance areas which must be addressed with our accreditation relative to those standards.
“This probationary status gives the college ample time to work through these issues in 2018.
“We would like to note that no show-cause action was taken against the institution following our accreditation commission appearance. This maneuver would have put MC on a strict timeline for the aforementioned areas. However, we are grateful, rather, to continue to work with TRACS over the course of the next year in all matters pertaining to institutional compliance.”
Eaton confirmed that the school was not put on show-cause — a status more severe than probation, which would require the school to prove to the commission why it should keep its accreditation.