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Private D.C. College Loses Accreditation
Merger Talks Underway With Neighbor

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Southeastern University has lost its accreditation, and officials at the 130-year-old school say they do not expect to offer a fall term.

The institution's accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education lapsed Aug. 31. A report from the commission found that the small private college lacked rigor and was losing faculty, enrollment and financial stability. Southeastern has operated since 1879 and has long served a population of lower-income and international students.

Of the 645 students enrolled at the Southwest Washington campus last fall, more than 300 graduated in a poignant ceremony in late June. Many of the rest transferred to the University of the District of Columbia, Trinity Washington University or Washington Adventist University, said Elaine Ryan, Southeastern's interim president. Nineteen of Southeastern's 60 faculty and staff members remain.

UDC spokesman Alan Etter said 161 Southeastern students had applied for transfer; he did not know how many subsequently enrolled. Ann Pauley at Trinity said 38 Southeastern students had transferred.

"Because all students commuted, they tended to transfer to local institutions," Ryan said in an e-mail last week.

There remains the possibility of a merger with GS Graduate School, an institution that provides continuing education for 150,000 students a year, most of them government workers. Officials with the two institutions, which are a few blocks apart, had spoken of creating a combined school with a wider range of degrees and a focus on public service and federal job training.

"The merger discussions are positive, and we hope they will conclude soon," Ryan said. A spokesman for GS offered no further comment.

It had long been clear that a fall term at Southeastern was unlikely, given the loss of accreditation, Ryan said. School officials had held out hopes of carrying on with the school's Allied Health programs, which offer associate degrees in various medical fields. But "we are reaching the point where that is less likely," Ryan said, "because of the time involved in recruiting students."

An accreditation report this year found that only 14 percent of first-time students seeking bachelor's degrees at Southeastern graduated within six years. Faculty had dwindled to 10 for an institution with more than 30 academic programs. Ryan said the school employed 150 adjunct faculty members each term.

Southeastern was founded by the YMCA. Its enrollment dropped after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when the student population shifted from international students to low-income District residents.

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