The student body president said Morris Brown College should not give up. But a fellow classmate said she may have to.
Students at the 117-year-old historically black school face an uncertain future after the private college was stripped of its accreditation, leaving 80 percent of its students without federal financial aid.
The decision, released Tuesday by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, means Morris Brown, saddled with mounting debt, could close its doors permanently. The school said it would appeal.
"I'm just going to have to go to another institution if this thing stands," said student Renata Robertson, who can't afford to stay if she doesn't receive half the $6,000-a-semester tuition she gets in federal financial aid.
Also losing its accreditation was Mary Holmes College, historically a school for black women in West Point, Miss. The tiny two-year college, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, has been suffering declining enrollment and cash shortages.
Another historically black institution, Grambling State University in Louisiana, will continue on probation for another year. Grambling was placed on probation last year mainly because financial records have been so scrambled that the legislative auditor could not check the books.
The Atlanta-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is one of the nation's six regional higher education accrediting agencies, covering more than 800 schools in 11 states.
Morris Brown has been dealing with mounting financial debt, estimated at more than $23 million, and federal scrutiny for more than a year. The debt grew as the school's enrollment expanded without additional housing. That forced the school to pay to house students in hotel rooms and to bus them to campus.
After bringing in a new president, cutting costs and increasing fundraising attempts, school officials and students thought they were back on track. But the accrediting agency -- 77 college presidents, chancellors and education officials -- yanked the school's accreditation at a meeting in San Antonio.
Morris Brown President Charles Taylor said the college will appeal, but that process could take several months. He said the college is committed to staying open.
"Every single concern that was mentioned we had already begun to initiate a series of solutions to deal with those issues," Taylor said. "I think it's absolutely ludicrous that somebody would expect a team of professional educators . . . would not be given the time to put in place the plan we have laid out."
Taylor could not give specifics about how Morris Brown will make up for the lost financial aid if the decision stands. The federal government gives Morris Brown $8 million a year for financial aid.
One of six historically black schools in the Atlanta University Center, Morris Brown is not as well-known as its prestigious neighbors, including Spelman and Morehouse. Notable alumni include the late civil rights activist Hosea Williams and Pulitzer Prize-winning author James Alan McPherson.
The school had been waiting months for the accreditation decision, and word rippled through the Atlanta campus with 2,500 students.
"I'm not going to give up on my institution," said Edmond Richardson, student body president from Glennville, Ga. "It was there for me when a lot of people weren't."