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What Does It Mean Now That Bethune Cookman University Is Off Probation?

BCU President Brent Chrite on Zoom via Talia Blake/WMFE
BCU President Brent Chrite on Zoom via Talia Blake/WMFE

Bethune Cookman University is finally off probation from its accrediting agency,  the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission. It’s a big step forward for the university after almost 2 years of financial issues. 90.7’s Talia Blake talked with BCU President Brent Chrite, who began by explaining what coming off probation means for the historically black university. 

BRENT CHRITE: It means that Bethune Cookman University has cleared an essential financial hurdle to enable us to continue to steward and manage the enterprise, so that we can fulfill our aspirations and meet the needs of our students and community. So our struggles, like all universities, are far from over right now in a COVID environment. But, we are exponentially better placed.

WMFE: What was the backup plan if Bethune Cookman had, in fact lost accreditation?

CHRITE: The backup plan would have included the use of of the courts, and I say that only because our progress was demonstrably clear and absolutely unambiguous. It would have been just a horrible decision to not allow us to get off. We would have also obviously pursued accommodations were another regional agency. And so we had a plan, but look, we all know that just could not be an option for us, and we worked accordingly.

WMFE: The fact that BCU was put on probation, in general,has done damage to the school's reputation. How do you repair that and convince incoming students that BCU is a safe, stable college choice?

CHRITE: While SACS did not help, obviously, my bigger concern right now is the impact of the pandemic and on COVID. I think that if you look at our financial audit, if you look at the decision that came out of SACS, if you look at the progress that we've made in terms of the strength of our balance sheet in terms of how we manage our resources, in terms of how we right size, the organization, in terms of how we've overhauled completely the academic enterprise. I actually think that people see that this is not only a strong and viable place, but for many of our students, it's the place that they want to be. We got to repair some damage. We think that started with getting off probation.

WMFE: And I want to touch on something you just talked about, the pandemic. How did the coronavirus pandemic affect BCU and your probationary period?

CHRITE: COVID affected four and a half (to) five months of our operation before we had to come through for probation. It obviously damaged our revenue streams and was a challenge for the balance sheet. But, the fact that we were still able to come through successfully, I think is a testament to the strength of the governance and the leadership that's taking place here. COVID has hurt us. We hope to get through it. We lost housing money, we lost enrollment revenues, a lot of money to protect the campus to sanitize, but that's a burden that we were able to handle.

WMFE: And lastly, what's the plan to move forward to ensure that the past financial struggles don't happen again, at BCU?

CHRITE: We have a board and we have a leadership team that has codified the procedures, the processes, and the controls that are required by any institution and certainly an institution that is so committed to, to the public trust like ours. So, it's not going to happen because the board wouldn't allow it to happen, and it's not going to happen because I wouldn't allow it to happen. My team wouldn't allow it to happen. We're building these processes into the institutional muscle and to the DNA of the organization. And that's how it should have been.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.