|Hiwassee College advances in accreditation efforts|
Hiwassee College, a United Methodist-related school in Tennessee, has
retained its accreditation under a federal court ruling. A UMNS photo by
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Feb. 13, 2007
Following another year of legal wrangling, a United Methodist-related college’s accreditation remains intact.
A federal judge ruled Feb. 6 in favor of Hiwassee College in
Madisonville, Tenn., in a portion of its lawsuit against the Southern
Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
“This is a significant moment in our legal efforts,” said the Rev.
James Noseworthy, president of Hiwassee. “We have prevailed on one of
the several issues of our case. The decision means SACS cannot take
steps that would cut off Hiwassee’s financial aid or remove
The two-year college has been in a legal battle since the association
voted in 2004 to remove the school’s accreditation over concerns about
its financial resources. Hiwassee leaders said the college was
financially sound, however, and obtained a restraining order in 2005 to
keep the 158-year-old school’s accreditation during appeals processes.
The school filed its lawsuit that same year in the U.S. District Court
for the Northern District of Georgia.
The Rev. James Noseworthy
Due process concerns
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester agreed with the
lawsuit’s claim that a conflict of interest existed when a SACS
representative on the assessment team also sat on the accrediting body’s
“This is counter to due process provisions,” Noseworthy explained later.
Following review of the Feb. 6 ruling by leaders of the college and
the accrediting body, there will be discussion regarding how both
parties proceed. Hiwassee’s claim for damages is yet to be heard.
“This is an important step but not the final step in our pursuit of justice,” Noseworthy said.
The president said Hiwassee is challenging the association in other
areas of due process, including issues of "arbitrary and capricious
decisions," the association "as a state actor on behalf of the U.S.
Department of Education," peer review and clarity of standards.
“Hiwassee College continues to provide quality education in a
Christian context,” he said. “Our academic program is not in question.
We have extensive library resources through the Appalachia College
Association. Our campus is wireless and high-tech. We provide
student-centered learning. We continue to make strides in fiscal areas
as well. We are not the same institution we were in 2002. And we have
great plans for new initiatives in the near future.”
Serving Appalachia and beyond
The judge’s ruling arrived as the school launched its annual capital
campaign, with a goal this year to raise $608,000. The fund is the
source of scholarships for current students.
Last September, the college’s fall enrollment was 444 students – a 15
percent increase from the previous year and the school’s highest since
1999. Many of Hiwassee’s students are the first in their family to
attend college. Eighty-eight percent come from Appalachia, 80 percent
receive some financial aid and 40 percent get full financial assistance.
The Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools is the accrediting body for institutions of higher education
that award associate, baccalaureate, master’s or doctoral degrees in
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North
Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
Hiwassee is also accredited by the University Senate of The United
Methodist Church and the Tennessee State Department of Education.
Last March, the Division on Education of the United Methodist Board
of Higher Education and Ministry passed a resolution affirming the
denomination’s seven two-year colleges, noting that such schools “often
educate underserved, under-prepared, and under-resourced individuals.”
The resolution supported colleges in “their efforts to preserve their
mission and combat external attempts that would threaten their mission
or close these institutions.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restraining order reinstates college’s accreditation
Division on Higher Education affirms church’s two-year colleges
United Methodist-related college challenges accreditation removal
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
General Board of Higher Education and Ministry