LANCASTER – A petition circulating online accuses Atlantic Union College of being on the brink of collapse and misleading students about its current state.
The small, private Seventh-day Adventist college, which reopened two years ago after closing earlier this decade because of financial troubles, rebutted those claims, saying in a statement Monday afternoon it is on solid footing and has been forthcoming with students about its situation.
Posted over the weekend anonymously by a user self-identifying as “Atlantic Union College Student,” the change.org petition portrays Atlantic Union as failing school that is trying to hide the extent of its troubles from students and families in order to grow its enrollment.
“The school seems to continually downplay the situation and lie or trick the current and future potential students into believing everything will be ok,” the anonymous student says in the petition, which had garnered 15 supporters as of Tuesday afternoon. “I know friends up there who are trying to leave but workers from the school keeps deluding their parents into keeping their kids there.”
Among the petition’s accusations against Atlantic Union is that the college is losing financial support from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has played a large role in subsidizing the school’s attempt to reopen. If the school fails a feasibility study being conducted by the church’s North American Division and accrediting body, the post speculates, it could close altogether.
The college earlier this year lost an $800,000 annual subsidy from the Southern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. The petition writer says the church’s Bermuda and Northern New England conferences could withdraw their funding as well.
The Telegram & Gazette was unable to reach representatives at the two organizations who could confirm or deny those allegations.
The petition also says the college is not telling students it could be shut down by the state Board of Higher Education if it does not enroll at least 50 students next year. Katy Abel of the state higher education department refuted that assertion Monday, however, saying the department does not require colleges to have a minimum number of students to operate.
The petitioner mostly knocks the college for being dishonest with students. The petition accuses Atlantic Union, for example, of overstating its enrollment to prospective students; misleading them about a shuttle service that allegedly did not materialize; and giving overly optimistic timelines of when the school, which is currently unaccredited, could gain accreditation.
The petition writer worries students may now be faced with meager transfer prospects should Atlantic Union close again.
“This scam needs to end,” the student wrote, adding he or she planned to submit the signed petition to North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, the division’s Atlantic Union Conference, and the state’s higher education department.
In response to the petition, the college’s president, Avis Hendrickson, said Atlantic Union has been transparent with its community about the college’s status, and that students “have advisers, faculty, staff, administrators and the college president willing to talk with them.”
She offered assurances that the college has been making “measurable progress” in its reaccreditation attempt through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. The school recently submitted its draft eligibility report to the association, according to Barbara Brittingham, president of NEASC’s Commission on Institutes of Higher Education. If that report, which Ms. Brittingham said she had not read through as of Tuesday afternoon, shows the school to be in good standing, the accreditation process could begin sooner. If NEASC has qualms about it, on the other hand, Atlantic Union could have to refile it, potentially multiple times.
Accreditation is a key milestone for the college, whose students cannot receive federal financial aid because of its unaccredited status.
Ms. Hendrickson described the Adventist Accrediting Association’s current evaluation of the school, meanwhile, as a “fact-finding mission.”
“This study is for the division administration to determine whether or not they will ask the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to do an accreditation visit,” Ms. Hendrickson wrote, as well as to “determine the perceived needs of the constituency.”
She also reported the college is working on establishing articulation agreements with other colleges. It has already signed such an agreement with Southwestern University, and is close to forming one with Andrews University.
The president had less to say on Atlantic Union’s financial future, saying only that the “issue (is) under the purview of the Atlantic Union Conference,” which owns the college. “They are giving attention to this matter,” Ms. Hendrickson said.
On Tuesday, a representative for the conference said its administrators were aware of the change.org petition and planned to meet Wednesday to discuss it, but did not comment on the college’s financial situation.