A small South Carolina college that tried to boost its enrollment and cure its financial woes two months ago by offering low income District of Columbia students a free education will close its doors Friday, perhaps permanently.
Trustees for Friendship College in Rock Hill announced Monday that the college will close for at least one semester and that its president, Charles Petress, has resigned.
In October, Petress hired a Washington lawyer to recruit low income District of Columbia students. The recruits were told they would receive a free education and free room and board if they agreed to apply for federal aid that would be paid directly to the college under the government's Basic Education Opportunity Grant (BEOG) program.
A few days after they arrived at the campus, 30 miles south of Charlotte, N.C., more than half of the 110 D.C. students decided to return home. They claimed the college was in deplorable condition and had few of the programs and extracurricular activities advertised in its catalogue. The students also had learned that the college was not nationally accredited and that it had filed for bankruptcy in April.
After hearing the students' complaints, the U.S. Department of Education began investigating Friendship College and the payment of more than $300,000 in BEOG funds to the school since 1974. In November, the government dropped the school from the BEOG program.
Before he resigned Monday, Petress held a rally in a last-ditch effort to raise $130,000 owed to the school's creditors. It was only one of several attempts by Petress to salvage the college, whose enrollment had dropped from 1,000 students in the 1960s to fewer than 100 last week. Since being hired in 1977, Petress, who could not be reached for comment, has sold bricks from campus buildings to alumni for $15 each, held chicken-and-fish fund-raising dinners and asked entertainer Ray Charles to adopt the school. (He declined.) In 1979, soul singer James Brown gave a concert at the school and was awarded an honorary degree from Petress.
The few D.C. students still at the school are expected to return home this week. A bankruptcy hearing for the college was set for late yesterday in Charlotte. The school is affiliated with several Rock Hill Baptist churches that helped start the college shortly after the Civil War as a combination high school-college for blacks.