Saint Augustine’s University got a much-needed alumni gift last week and will receive more than $340,000 in annual appropriations from the Episcopal Church over the next three years. But questions remain about the school’s financial stability as it approaches an accreditation reporting deadline.
SAU and Voorhees College will split a total of $2,045,000 over the next three years under the church’s racial justice and reconciliation initiative, developed in 2015 by its General Convention following the June 2015 mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.
The funding keeps level the church’s investment in Episcopal-affiliated black colleges dating back to its 73rd General Convention, which initially increased funding from a $950,000 triennial budget to $2 million.
The two HBCUs are the centerpiece of the initiative, which in total will pledge more than $10 million to social justice reformation education and community projects.
Officials say that the budget calls for an even split of funding between St. Aug’s and Voorhees, which had historically shared appropriations with Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va. based upon enrollment share until its closure in 2013.
Last month, officials at the 79th General Convention reaffirmed its commitment to the initiative with a $5 million commitment to support church-based response to racial injustice.
Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester, bishop chair of the legislative committee, said he was most excited about a new initiative adopted by the convention – a Beloved Community summit. Resolution A228 provides for a gathering of leaders working in racial reconciliation and racial justice across the Episcopal Church before the end of 2019.
Singh said the summit will “share best practices, build networks and strengthen curricula. It’s building capacity so Episcopalians can play a leadership role in their communities and not just in the church.”
The funding is a critical cash infusion for cash-strapped Saint Augustine’s University, where donors have offered support of the university in recent weeks, but school officials have offered conflicting reports about fundraising and the status of the university’s financial picture.
Last week, SAU alumnus and retired healthcare executive Ruben Cowart donated $40,000 to the university.
“Families of students at historically black colleges and universities rely heavily on loans, to help pay for tuition, said Dr. Cowart.” As sons and daughters of our beloved institution, it’s imperative that we commit ourselves in providing financial support on an annual basis.”
But the status of SAU’s financial health remains unclear. In April, school officials said that the school was actively working to meet an undisclosed fundraising goal ahead of a June 30 deadline to help preserve the university’s accreditation status with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges.
In a bid to satisfy accreditors who need to see much-improved financial stability this year, St. Augustine’s has raised about $3 million, President Everett Ward said. But that’s not enough. The school still needs to raise another $3 million before June 30, he told TLC in a March interview.
“It’s the final push, so we’re pushing real hard,” Ward said. “We have obtained strong support from the Episcopal Church, and we’re looking for even more support.”
But following the release of internal financial, accreditation and personnel documents earlier this month, officials were citing a lower fundraising number of $2.5 million, while also suggesting that fundraising was at record highs and that the institution was in stable financial position.