WINSTON-SALEM — Good news for Salem Academy and College: Its accrediting agency has taken the school off probation after 18 months.
The college announced Tuesday that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges said Salem now fully complies with all of its standards. The private women's liberal arts college had been on probation — but remained accredited — since last year because of the commission's concerns over Salem's financial situation.
The college's president, Sandra Doran, was in Houston for the commission's semiannual meeting when SACSCOC representatives told her Tuesday morning that it was lifting Salem's probation. Immediately, Doran said in a phone interview late Tuesday, she called back to Winston-Salem so the good news could be spread to Salem's employees, students, alumnae and other supporters.
"A lot of people have traveled with us on this journey," Doran said. "It was so important to inform our community. It was a day of celebration on our campus and beyond."
Salem had been on probation since June 2018, about six weeks after Doran arrived as the college's interim president. Salem was about to finish a third straight fiscal year in which it had run a deficit, and enrollment was down about 20% in five years.
That summer, the commission told Salem that it was out of compliance with four of its financial standards and put the college on probation.
Salem made progress over the next year, but not enough to shake probation. The commission said in June that Salem was still short on one standard and must demonstrate that it had sufficient financial resources and a stable financial foundation. The commission extended Salem's probation for another six months and asked to see a financial report for the 2018-19 fiscal year at its meeting this week.
Doran said Salem's most recent financial statement showed a surplus, a development that satisfied the commission. Doran said Tuesday that the college is projecting another surplus for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Doran also said she shared with the commission other positive financial news: debt is down, expenses are lower and a fundraising campaign that wrapped up last summer collected $14 million in cash and pledges — $4 million more than its goal. Perhaps more importantly, Doran said, her presentation to the commission included Salem's plan for remaining on sound financial footing.
"The combination of those financial strategies convinced them that we understand our financial situation and we're committed to maintaining fiscal stability," Doran said.
Doran — who was moved from Salem's interim president to president in September — said there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic as the college prepares to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2022.
The first-year class that started at Salem this fall numbered 125, or about 10% larger than the class before it. A higher percentage of students returned to campus for the fall semester than in previous years. And as of Dec. 1, Salem already has received 658 applications for admission next fall — an increase of 75% from a year ago.
"We feel that once this good news reaches our (prospective students), it will give them some added confidence — and more importantly to their parents to send them to Salem," Doran said.
In a statement, Dara Folan, a retired Winston-Salem attorney and chairman of the college's Board of Trustees, thanked "members of Salem's internal community for their dedication during the last 18 months and to those in the external community for their support of and commitment to Salem." He also thanked other board members and Doran "for their tireless work and for her tremendous leadership on campus and throughout the community."
It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people to shore up Salem's finances and strengthen the college's academic and overall program, Doran said. Some of that recent work led to some national recognition: U.S. News & World Report in its college guide published in September ranked Salem fourth among national liberal arts colleges in social mobility for its ability to graduate students from low- and middle-income families.
"We all worked shoulder to shoulder to move the institution forward," she added. "I think it's that teamwork that is responsible for our success."
SACSCOC, based outside Atlanta, accredits nearly 800 colleges and universities in 11 Southern states that meet its academic, financial, operating, administrative and other standards.
Accreditation is crucial in higher education. Institutions must be accredited to accept federal student aid, such as Pell Grants and student loans. Many graduate programs and jobs require degrees from accredited schools. Colleges and universities who aren't accredited are often forced to close.
The commission can place schools on probation for a maximum of two years. After that, the commission rules say it must either remove the sanction or revoke accreditation.