- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Its Web site boasts that Southeastern University is known for “civic engagement, a diverse student body, and academic opportunities that change lives and build careers.”

As of Aug. 31, however, Southeastern University (SEU), located at Sixth and I streets in Southwest, may be remembered as the school that lost its accreditation.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education — a voluntary, nongovernmental, membership association that defines, maintains and promotes educational excellence across institutions with diverse missions, student populations and resources — determined in March that SEU failed to meet acceptable levels of educational quality and is revoking the school’s accreditation Aug. 31.

Unless the college can work out a merger with another school that is accredited, SEU will be closed after 130 years in service to working adults.

SEU will lose not only its 1,100-member student body but also one of its most valued assets, 40-year-old Sharon Everett, a black, single mother of two, an SEU database manager, MBA candidate and valedictorian of the undergraduate class of December 2008.

On the surface, Ms. Everett, a native of Elizabeth City, N.C., seems a very unassuming, soft-spoken woman, but don’t judge this book by its cover. Sandwiched between the preface and epilogue, is a flavorful spread of one woman’s trials, travails and triumphs while on the road to higher education and self-fulfillment.

Ms. Everett’s story begins humbly but is told in a strong, determined first-person voice. In 2004, she was working at Providence Hospital as a data processor when a co-worker, who happened to be a student at SEU, encouraged Ms. Everett to apply for a job vacancy at the college as a database manager.

She did, was interviewed, and subsequently, offered the position. One year later, Ms. Everett enrolled as a business management major and graduated top of her class in 2008. Her ambition, fueled by renewed self-confidence and success, catapulted Ms. Everett into Southeastern’s MBA program where she pinned her hopes on an August 2010 date of completion.

“Unfortunate” is the one word Ms. Everett uses to describe the impending closure of the school that served as a cocoon and familylike haven for her and other students. SEU’s demise is a two-edge sword for Ms. Everett who is both a student and employee at the school. SEU may lose its accreditation, but Ms. Everett may very well lose her job.

Talks of a merger of SEU, founded in 1879 by the Young Men’s Christian Association of the District of Columbia, and other schools are ongoing but details remain sketchy, said Telaekah Brooks, the acting academic dean. There is no guarantee faculty and staff will be kept on. Earlier this year, the University of District of Columbia (UDC) was rumored to merge with SEU using the I Street location in Southwest to house its planned community college. Those plans dissipated.

Ms. Everett, who receives financial aid and discounted tuition fees as an employee, may incur full financial responsibility should she be laid off. She said she prays other students will not be discouraged.

She added that because of SEU’s nurturing environment, having to adjust to another school is going to be a cultural shock.

“Southeastern gives its students something they won’t get anywhere else,” said Ms. Everett, who is also anxious about her possible transfer to UDC.

However, Ms. Brooks said, “Great effort was made to transition students into other area universities.”

Area colleges, such as Trinity Washington University and UDC, were invited to SEU and students were able to speak with admission officers and other university staff to determine where they might best fit in to complete their education.

Students were given five copies of transcripts to apply to other schools and most are offered tuition discounts or matching tuition costs at SEU.

Ms. Brooks commended SEU’s 18-member board for its efforts to restructure the school by “focusing on curriculum rigor and providing students a practical education.”

The Middle States Commission states several reasons why accreditation is important besides assurance of quality and adherence to academic standards. Accreditation determines a school’s eligibility for participation in federal (Title IV) and state financial aid programs. Proper accreditation is also important for the acceptance and transfer of college credit, and is a prerequisite for many graduate programs.

The most recognized and accepted type of accreditation in the United States is regional accreditation. Generally, college credits or degrees received at a regionally accredited institution are accepted by other regionally accredited colleges or universities. However, this acceptance is not guaranteed; it remains with each institution to establish its own policies based on the determination that the credits accepted meet educational objectives comparable to their own programs.

While university faculty and staff work at a feverish pace to make the best out of a bad situation, Ms. Everett, whose daughter recently graduated from Johnson C. Smith University in North Carolina, is no doubt penning the sequel to her epic of perseverance.

• Geraldine Washington is a freelance writer living in the District.

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