Millions of dollars in upgrades and improvements on the Wilberforce University campus are being put to the test this week as the Higher Learning Commission evaluates whether one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges should keep its accreditation.
Wilberforce has raised more than $6 million, including a $4 million commitment announced Monday, for improvement projects connected to the university’s efforts to save its accreditation and create a high caliber learning environment, according to university officials.
Monday marked the first of a three-day Higher Learning Commission peer review team visit to evaluate whether Wilberforce is in compliance with the organization’s accreditation criteria.
If the the institution’s accreditation is revoked, students would be ineligible for federal financial aid and the university would not be able to accept international students.
The campus visit was scheduled after the commission issued a show-cause order in June 2014 listing areas of non-compliance which included: financial oversight, governance and administrative structures, and inconsistent board decision making processes.
Wilberforce Board of Trustees Chairman Mark Wilson said he is “cautiously-optimistic” that the university has fulfilled the accreditation commission’s requirements.
“Hopefully we’ve satisfied all the concerns that they have and we’ll be in a place where they’re convinced that the university is in the right hands and on the right track,” he said. “(It’s) got to get back to it’s rightful place amongst the top academic institutions in the country.”
A final decision on the university’s accreditation is expected in November, said John Hausaman, a Higher Learning Commission spokesman, on Monday.
Several donations and pledges for campus improvements were collected within the last year, according to university officials. One of the largest is from the African Methodist Episcopal Church 3rd District which has committed to donating $4 million.
“We are so happy that the church, from the initial inception of Wilberforce, has always been here for the institution,” Wilberforce University President Algeania Freeman said. “We’re just grateful.”
In addition to the church, Wilberforce has received donations from community supporters such as Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, which sponsored an event which raised almost $30,000 and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which gave a $20,000 gift to help with sidewalk and step repairs.
“It’s gifts like that from the community that have certainly been a blessing to the institution,” Freeman said.
The university’s alumni has pledged to raise $2 million, said Talbot Grooms, the Wilberforce University national alumni president.
“Understanding the financial need for the university at the time, the alumni stepped forward and stepped up to raise money for the institution,” he said. “… Whatever the university needs, we are here to support the institution and Dr. Freeman,” Grooms said.
The alumni association has raised $775,000 of the $2 million that was pledged, Grooms said.
So far, the university has reported spending $2.2 million on renovations, repairs and furnishings for nine buildings and on sidewalk and landscaping improvements. An additional $400,000 was spent on technology upgrades that included four technology labs with 80 new computers.
According to preliminary estimates, around $250,000 of the money will be used for a new technology center, however, the total cost has not been calculated, Freeman said.
De’Andre Dearinge, a 25-year-old Wilberforce University communications major and student ambassador, characterized the changes at the university as a “rags-to-riches” story.
“We have had many changes in the student union … with games and equipment …We’ve also have had changes in our dormitories; new bedding, new technology labs in all levels of the dorms, new entertainment areas for the student,” he said.