Paine College vows to continue accreditation fight after legal setback

Paine College President Jerry Hardee stressed Monday he’s optimistic about its future despite a recent court ruling that could threaten its accreditation status.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash late last week ruled in favor of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges in its two-year-old legal battle with Paine, saying the organization was within its legal rights when it revoked the Augusta-based college’s accreditation in 2016.

The college, Hardee said, has 30 days to respond to claims that the organization wanted addressed concerning Paine’s finances in order to keep its accreditation. Unaccredited schools aren’t eligible for federal student aid, and degrees conferred may carry no weight with employers or graduate schools.

“Paine College is accredited. Paine College is accredited. Paine College is accredited,” Hardee said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

The saga began in 2012 when The Augusta Chronicle published a series of articles that reported Paine had not returned unused federal financial aid for students who had withdrawn from the school and numerous financial aid checks to students bounced. SACSCOC investigated and initially put Paine on warning status, then probation and then decided to remove its accreditation. Paine went to court to appeal the decision, arguing, in part, that it addressed many of the commission’s concerns.

SACSCOC is the primary accreditation agency for most Georgia colleges and universities as well as throughout the South.

Hardee said Paine wants to be accredited by SACSCOC and the college’s leadership team will review the court ruling. The college is also seeking accreditation from another agency, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, and plans to visit agency officials in Dallas, Tex. in two weeks to discuss its application. Paine was founded by Methodist church leaders and describes itself as a “church-related, liberal arts institution.”

Paine had 922 students when the commission put the college on probation in 2014. Its enrollment dropped to 425 last year when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution visited the campus as part of its three-part series on the future of Historically Black Colleges & Universities. Hardee said Monday that Paine has about 500 students.