On Monday evening, Bethel College alumni received an email from college President Jon Gering that contained a bit of news that some might find concerning.
A review team from the Higher Learning Commission that visited the school in May for an accreditation review is recommending the college be placed on probation.
"The Peer Review Team concluded that Bethel College did not meet the standards for accreditation in the area of financial resources, their management and their sustainability for supporting the institution," Gering wrote. "Their main concern was a long-term pattern of annual operating budget shortfalls. They have recommended that the college be placed on probation until May 2021, although a final decision to place the college on probation won’t be made until November 2019."
Probation, as used by the Higher Learning Commission, defines a time period for taking action to address found issues. During a probationary period, a college remains accredited. The probationary period will give Bethel College an opportunity to address issues cited by the Higher Learning Commission.
According to an FAQ published by the college, out of the 21 core components reviewed, Bethel did not meet the standard on two components — achieving a balanced budget and structures to promote effective leadership and support collaborative processes.
“This challenge is fundamentally an issue of balancing expenses with revenues and creating more cash flow,” said Vice President for Business Affairs Allen Wedel. “Bethel is currently developing a more complete financial analysis plan for ensuring that the institution can meet its financial commitments, as well.”
Bethel College and its Board of Directors are defining performance benchmarks to monitor the financial health of the institution to achieve its goal of a balanced operating budget in FY 2021 with no supplemental endowment draws.
“Engaged in assessing alternative strategies, Bethel is set to successfully achieve all financial goals outlined by the HLC,” Wedel added.
According to the Bethel Collge website, the school has been supplementing budgets with transfers from its endowment for the past "few years." Also, the second component the HLC was the institution’s governance and administrative structures promote effective leadership and support collaborative processes that enable the institution to fulfill its mission was unmet.
If the school is placed on probation, the period would be for two years. The Higher Learning Commission will monitor the college’s progress at achieving a balanced budget, ending with a visit to the school.
The Higher Learning Commission did affirm the quality of Bethel’s education.
"Overall, our report was excellent," Gering wrote. "I am proud of our institutional mission and its commitment to society, diversity, and the public good. I am proud that our institution was judged to act ethically and with integrity; that it presents itself clearly and completely to its students and to the public with regard to its programs, requirements, and costs. The campus is dedicated to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching. The HLC Peer Review Team concluded that our education was excellent wherever it was delivered. We have an enriching educational environment and many accomplishments to celebrate."
Bethel College will remain accredited during any probation period. Students will continue to receive credits and graduates will continue to receive degrees. Students will also be able to continue to receive financial aid.
Bethel’s last accreditation visit was in April 2009.