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College appeals after losing accreditation Annette Spence, Jan 16, 2009
UMNS PHOTOS BY DENNIS LOY
Hiwassee College students enjoy at meal at the dining center.
By Annette Spence United Methodist News Service
ALCOA, Tenn.—Look into the faces of students at Hiwassee College and you will understand why the Holston Conference still fights for the school that fights for these students.
Historically, 80 percent of the students at the United Methodist-related institution have been the first generation to attend college in their families, officials say. The average family income for Hiwassee students is $22,000. Poor grades, lack of money or other hardships would prevent many from attending college elsewhere, according to students past and present.
Located in rural Madisonville, Tenn., Hiwassee is more than a college. It is a United Methodist mission.
“For 159 years, young men and women who never dreamed of a college education have received one because of Hiwassee,” said Holston Conference Bishop James Swanson. “If we were sure someone else could fill that void, we would let them. But deep down in our hearts, we don’t believe it. We know our niche. We have found our ministry.”
The Holston Conference comprises east Tennessee and parts of Virginia and Georgia.
Now, the two-year junior college that has fought so long to continue its mission is issuing an urgent plea for support. Hiwassee anticipates receiving candidacy status with a federally approved accrediting body by April. That status will reaffirm the college’s academic credibility, officials said. People who want to help are encouraged to contribute toward a goal of $4.4 million.
If someone wants to help Hiwassee, now is the time, said Jim Henry, chairperson of the board of trustees. “If we don’t meet our goal by April, there will be no reason to help Hiwassee next summer.”
The college is quietly doing what it has always done, except with a smaller group of students. Current enrollment is 110, compared to 440 in fall 2007, according to President James Noseworthy.
Enrollment dropped dramatically following the April 2007 loss of Hiwassee’s accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The termination was based on financial concerns, according to the association.
The quality of Hiwassee academics has never been in question, said the Rev. Doug Fairbanks, member of Hiwassee’s board of trustees.
When the accreditation loss caused students to become ineligible for state and federal financial aid, the college stepped up to provide scholarship assistance to each one.
“It demonstrates our commitment to provide a quality education to students who desire it,” Dr. Noseworthy said. “There was a reason why they wanted to come to Hiwassee, even if we weren’t accredited at the time.”
The $4.4 million appeal includes $1.4 million for student scholarship assistance and $3 million for income lost in enrollment. Dr. Noseworthy called the $4.4 million a “bridge” to carry the school until it is again eligible for financial aid and enrollment returns to normal.
“Indeed, it would send a strong and clear message to our new accreditors that we have the support and commitment of our conference in sustaining our mission,” he said.
The college has received favorable reviews from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, from which it is seeking accreditation, Dr. Noseworthy said. College leaders are also encouraged by an offer from the George R. Johnson Family Foundation to help Hiwassee meet its challenge. Through Dec. 31, the foundation was matching each dollar of funds received in support of student scholarships up to $100,000.
Supporters and alumni speak fondly of the little Christian college that has overcome many challenges, offering education in a personalized setting with dedicated faculty.
“This faculty could go other places and be well received,” Bishop Swanson said, “but they make personal sacrifices to offer a quality education to students who wouldn’t otherwise receive it.”
Mary Hawkins, Knoxville District administrative assistant, graduated from Hiwassee in 1979. “If I had gone somewhere else, I wouldn’t have made it,” she said. “I was shy, backward. Hiwassee gave me an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone without being swallowed up.”
As today’s young adults face financial challenges that their parents might not have known, Hiwassee may discover new ways to meet their needs, supporters say.
They add that they are optimistic. Hiwassee has never let down its students, and so they hope the conference will not let Hiwassee down. “Even in the midst of the most troubled financial times—perhaps the most troubled in the college’s history—Hiwassee has continued to do its mission,” said the Rev. Ron Matthews, board of trustees member.
Information on giving is available at hiwassee.edu or by calling Jim Henry (865) 599-6362.
Ms. Spence is the editor of The Call, the newspaper of the Holston Conference.