RALEIGH, N.C. — St. Augustine's University has been battling for its accreditation status for months. The historically Black university lost its accreditation appeal with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at the end of February.

What You Need To Know

  • St. Augustine's University has been battling for its accreditation status

  • Concerned students are considering transferring if the university cannot get acceditation

  • Staff have not been paid since February 9

“The Appeals Committee found the SACSCOC Board of Trustees’ decision to be reasonable, not arbitrary,” part of a statement from SACSCOC reads.

SACSCOC is a committee that accredits many schools in the southeast.

After the appealed decision, the school entered a 10-day arbitration period and the school announced it will continue to fight the ruling in court.

"We disagree with the decision made by SACSCOC and plan to appeal to a higher authority with evidence supporting the institution's progress in resolving non-compliance," St. Augustine's Interim President Marcus Burgess said in a news release. He said the university plans to file a lawsuit to keep its accredidation. 

"We will move quickly to file a lawsuit against SACSCOC seeking an injunction that, if granted, will allow Saint Augustine’s University to remain accredited with SACSCOC on Probation for Good Cause until the conclusion of litigation."

During an interview on March 4, Burgess announced the school's future plans and addressed concerns from students.

Burgess said the doors of the university will continue to remain open. He said the school’s plan is to sell land of the HBCU’s property for a profit. Besides financial concerns, SACSCOC did also stress the concern of leadership within the school.

“Leadership decisions ultimately put us in some of the positions that we are in now. And so we are trying to make sure that we believe we place sound financial structures in place. We are working with a group, the Terminus Municipal Group, to help us right size some of our debt, more importantly, create some best practices on the fiscal side of the house,” Burgess said.

During the time of the interview, Burgess said the school had not filled an injunction yet, and was planning to do so on that March 6. When asked about legal fees, he said the school is hoping to have donations from alumni and the community to help offset the costs.

In an earlier press conference, Burgess said the school would need $5 million from the community, and he said donations are slowly coming in.

Burgess admits there was money mismanagement within the school, and said through forensic audits, the school now knows where the $10 million went.

Staff have not been paid since February 9, and Burgess says the school was able to pay its adjunct professors in January through gifts from alumni and friends.

“Not just on the emotional side and physically, but mentally to be able every day when you drive in off the campus, you see a news station camped out. That's tough. Social media. The trolls who are questioning why they are still teaching and why they're still attending and why aren't they running for the hills," Burgess said. "Our faculty and staff have been resolute. Their courage has not gone unnoticed."

On social media, along with speaking directly to Spectrum News 1, students have expressed concern over not receiving financial aid packages along with refund checks.

“What they haven't received was their refund checks. And that's the part that I'm really hurt about, because when you do your paperwork, you do your FAFSA, a lot of time students take out more than what they need to cover their tuition and fees so that they can take care of basic necessities like, you know, paying a cellphone bill or if they live off campus, paying their rent,” Burgess said.

"When we are cash-strapped and unable to give them their their refunds. One, we are violating our Title 4. So we have to make those things right. But two, it makes it very difficult on them, and they're suffering right now," he said. The school is trying to get the IRS to release some liens on university properties, he said.

With college admission decision deadlines looming on the calendar, Burgess said he believes the school's current accreditation status will be a struggle to get new students on campus. He said the school will not be as large of a campus as it has been in the past.

He also says the campus has seen an increase of students looking to transfer to other universities, but he urges students and staff to hold on and wait from leaving the school and to make sure students are up to date on their payments.

St. Augustine's has been known in the past for its scholarships given to students. When asked if students will be able to keep their current scholarship, Burgess said it will be honored for students who have previously earned the scholarships and on a case-by-case basis for incoming students.

Although he said the class size will be smaller, he hopes attention from the media will bring in students who are looking at the school as an underdog story. He also said the university is working with other schools to make sure students who do transfer will not be caught in the crossfire and allow their credits to transfer.

Students have a plethora of concerns that have a stark contrast to what the school is releasing, including reports of $10 million missing from school coffers.

“When the $10 million story came out was same time when I had a meeting to talk about the SACSCOC accreditation and without any the context, the students are saying, ‘you are stealing your money, y'all embezzled money,'” Burgess said.

Students also say the maintenance of the school is failing, mentioning roaches, the lack of hot water, and other issues on campus.

“Well, we are blessed someone is assisting us with a new maintenance company, a former maintenance company. We're thankful for the work they've done. I apologize to them profusely that we're unable to keep paying them. But the new company on a day-by-day basis just coming in and giving us some support until we get to a better day again,” Burgess said.

Staff said students, alumni and staff have also volunteered to help keep the campus clean. Burgess said not having custodial could help staff and students pay attention to their cleanliness, pick up behind themselves and to appreciate what may be taken for granted.

Despite the growing concerns, Burgess said to not count out the school yet.

"Students who may have been looked over at other institutions but yet have come here and flourished. Each one of our students that you have on this campus have a story. And so I would say that this institution can help you get anywhere you want to be,” Burgess said.