Sojourner-Douglass College is in a fight for its life, a battle that becomes more critical as the clock ticks down to the school’s scheduled loss of accreditation.

On Nov. 20, 2014, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education issued a decision to withdraw the institution’s accreditation effective June 30. In doing so, the agency cited “long-standing” concerns about the institution’s “financial viability.”

For example, a 2011 analysis of the school’s finances revealed an “over-reliance on government grants, weak internal controls, high debt obligations, and poor USDE financial rations,” and later reviews showed “continuing financial deficiencies,” according to the Commission’s letter announcing its decision.

In a previous interview with the AFRO, Sojourner-Douglass’ President Charles Simmons explained the school’s dismal finances arose from a “perfect storm” of circumstances: changes to the federal Pell Grant program that adversely impacted a majority of Sojourner’s student body who depend on the grants, resulting in decreased enrolment; their bank’s decision to not renew their loan and a resulting lag in their payment of state and federal tax liens.

Sojourner-Douglass’ President Charles Simmons

At the time of the interview, Simmons appealed to the public to support the school, which is Maryland’s only historically Black private college and an institution created to serve the underserved—mostly low-income, working adults trying to obtain a degree.

Both then and now—with the potential revocation of its accreditation—the community has responded, Simmons told the AFRO.

Reactions to the recent challenge has been “mixed” but mostly positive, he said.

“We’ve had a couple of people who have asked to be laid off so they could look for another job but that’s been few and far between,” Simmons said. “For the most part our people and our community have been very supportive. We’ve had people who came and offered to volunteer to help the college.”

Several petitions have been circulated, including a petition that has garnered a little over 800 signatures thus far.

“The plight facing this institution can easily be seen as a consequence of changing economic and regulatory circumstances common to many colleges and universities nationwide. For this significant institution to be so singled out with such a threat to its existence is to deny its value to our community and the importance of its mission,” the petition reads. It later continues, “This institution is essential for the transformation of the lives of families in our community whose needs are not met by other institutions. Sojourner-Douglass College is too important to fail.”

The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP also offered its public support for the school, decrying the accrediting board’s decision in a letter to the agency.

And, as the AFRO recently reported, Baltimore Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D) recently introduced legislation, the “Higher Education Investment Tax Credit Program” which he said is meant to be “another tool in the toolbox to help Sojourner-Douglass get through a crisis.”

The bill, SB02, is meant to increase donations to private, higher education institutions serving high needs areas – such as Sojourner-Douglass – by making tax credits available to those donors.

Additionally, Simmons said, business leaders, such as Joe Haskins of Harbor Bank of Maryland, have agreed to organize the business community to invest in the institution.

“We have investors coming to the table,” he said.

Meanwhile, the college is appealing the Commission’s decision and they don’t intend to lose, Simmons said.

“Of the 14 standards for accreditation the only measure the Middle States Commission said we did not meet was our finances. They asked us to do six things and we did those,” Simmons said.

For example, the school cut its deficit by half within one year, the school’s president said. And, they were able to secure a previously denied extension on their loan. But then the Commission raised an objection to the fees levied by the bank for the refinancing, saying it increased the school’s debt, Simmons said.

“There is no requirement that the school or any business should be debt-free,” he said.

“They (the Commission) changed the rules,” he continued. “They keep moving the goal post, so we’re going to appeal on the basis of that.”

If the appeal is unsuccessful, Simmons vowed to continue fighting to keep the school and its mission alive.

“We’re not going to give up on our students and we’re not giving up on our community,” he said “We won’t stop fighting…. We’ll go to court if we have to.