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Alderson Broaddus University, a financially fragile Baptist college in West Virginia, on Monday lost state approval to grant degrees and was ordered to wind down its operations and not enroll new students.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, the state regulator, voted unanimously to rescind the university’s degree-granting authority, effective Dec. 31. The commission said in a statement that Alderson Broaddus’ “financial condition renders the institution unable to create a stable, effective, and safe learning environment for its students.”

Higher education experts had anticipated Alderson Broaddus would close, and the state’s decision essentially spells its demise. Alderson Broaddus was given 10 days to appeal the commission’s action, but that wouldn’t fix the university’s myriad troubles, like leadership turnover and years of dwindling enrollment. 

An Alderson Broaddus spokesperson did not respond to a question Tuesday on whether it would appeal, only saying “we are working up plans as we speak.”

In addition to not being able to enroll new students starting this fall, the university also can’t bring back current students — except for seniors slated to graduate at the end of the fall semester. 

It also must reimburse all students who won’t be on campus and end all athletic and extracurricular activities. The university will develop plans, called teach-outs, to help students transfer to other colleges. 

“While I truly wish there had been a viable path forward for Alderson Broaddus University to continue operating, our foremost priority is to help their students continue their education as seamlessly as possible,” Sarah Armstrong Tucker, West Virginia’s higher education chancellor, said in a statement Monday.

Tough road ahead

Alderson’s Broaddus’ prospects have looked bleak in recent months. 

University officials said they were still contending with the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had contributed to the enrollment downturn. Student numbers fell from roughly 1,150 in fall 2015 to fewer than 800 in fall 2022, according to federal data.

An enrollment decline can hit the finances of tuition-dependent private colleges such as Alderson Broaddus hard. 

As the university struggled to recover, federal tax credits it expected to receive were reduced and delayed, according to former governing board chair Rebecca Hooman, who resigned in June. Hooman had detailed the university’s problems in a public letter on its website, which was later removed. 

More recently, it seemed like the university had reached a crisis point.

Local press reports say Alderson Broaddus had sought alumni donations to cover its payroll. And last month, local government officials threatened to cut off utility services to Alderson Broaddus after it failed to pay a nearly $776,000 bill. 

Glimmer of hope

For a time, it seemed like Alderson Broaddus might have a narrow path forward.

The university struck a deal with the city of Philippi to pay about $67,000 on its utility bill, and then settle the remaining balance through regular installments. 

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice also intervened last week, asking the state’s higher ed commission to delay a meeting in which it would have likely revoked the university’s operating authority.

The commission initially agreed with the governor’s request, but on Monday moved forward with an emergency meeting, saying the “rapidly deteriorating financial condition at Alderson Broaddus University may result in serious financial harm to students.”

State regulators in June had allowed Alderson Broaddus to continue operating, but expressed skepticism about its financial solvency. They said at the time that the university needed to develop teach-out plans and secure student academic and financial aid records with a third party. 

Alderson Broaddus met this week with its accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission. HLC years ago had grown concerned about the university’s finances, in part because it defaulted on bond repayments totaling more than $36 million in 2015.

HLC put the university’s accreditation on probation in 2017, and then lifted it two years later. But it gave notice that the continued financial instability could put the university out of compliance with its accreditation standards. HLC rescinded that sanction in 2021.