Southeastern U. acquired by another school in D.C.

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Graduate School, a private District institution that specializes in training government workers, announced Friday that it had completed a merger with nearby Southeastern University, which closed last year over accreditation problems.

The acquisition is a happy ending of sorts for Southeastern, which lost its accreditation -- essential to any college -- in August and never reopened.

"Our goal is to create a new institution which will provide accessible and practical public service education and continuing education," Jerry Ice, president and chief executive officer of the Graduate School, said in a statement.

The Graduate School, also known as GS Graduate School, provides continuing education to 150,000 students a year, most of them government workers, from a campus in Southwest Washington. The U.S. Department of Agriculture created the school in 1921. It operates now as an independent nonprofit institution.

Southeastern, founded by the YMCA in 1879, long served a population of lower-income and international students, offering career-oriented programs such as criminal justice, public administration and allied health.

Leaders of the Graduate School said they hope the acquisition will steer their institution toward a broader mission, still serving a core of federal employees but also reaching out to the D.C. community. The Southeastern campus, on I Street in Southwest, is less than a mile from the Graduate School on Maryland Avenue. School leaders said District residents are significantly underrepresented in the federal workforce, a deficit the combined institution could help close.

"We are delighted that the Southeastern University's mission of serving the local D.C. population will live on through the Graduate School," said Elaine Ryan, former interim president of Southeastern, who has joined the Graduate School as provost.

The Graduate School acquired the Southeastern name and wants to "honor that tradition," but officials are not sure how the name will be used, said James Huske, Graduate School chief of staff. A handful of Southeastern staff members have joined the Graduate School, Huske said.

The Graduate School is not a degree-granting institution and will have to reestablish accreditation to offer degree programs, Huske said. Allied health programs will be a major focus.

Southeastern went into decline after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Enrollment shifted from more than half international students to almost entirely low-income District residents.

The school's accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education lapsed Aug. 31. A report said Southeastern lacked rigor and was losing faculty, enrollment and financial stability. Of the 645 students enrolled in fall 2008, more than 300 graduated in June. Many transferred to the University of the District of Columbia, Trinity Washington University and Washington Adventist University, Ryan said.

A fine briefly imperiled the merger. The Department of Education found in 2008 that Southeastern had improperly given federal aid to students in an unaccredited online program. The school disputed the allegation but agreed to a substantial fine.

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