The Urban College of Boston, through struggling financially, is not beyond repair. The mission of the college — higher education for older students with low incomes and difficult lives — remains intact. There is no evidence of financial wrongdoing. Yet the New England Association of Schools and Colleges is unfairly pressing the tiny downtown college to relinquish its accreditation and stop holding classes because of its failure to meet financial standards, including adequate cash reserves. Institutions that serve unique student populations are almost bound to face greater financial challenges than the typical college, and they deserve special consideration if they are demonstrably meeting students’ academic needs.
Urban College is a no-frills institution offering two-year degrees in early childhood education, human services, and general studies. Many of its 600 students are working mothers who sought help from the social services nonprofit Action for Boston Community Development, which founded the college. As a rule, Urban College students need more intensive attention from faculty than can be found in crowded community college classrooms. More than half of the students, for example, have been out of high school for more than 10 years.
The college hit a financial rough patch when it lost federal grants that it had been relying on. It needs a seal of approval from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges to accept federal student aid. But the accrediting agency is insisting that Urban College lacks the financial wherewithal to “undertake another instructional term.’’ Yet the school has several promising grant applications out, and it has some breathing room: Action for Boston Community Development is also the college’s landlord and is being patient while the college regains its fiscal footing. And concerned philanthropists are stepping forward, college officials maintain.
The accreditation agency need not let Urban College off the hook entirely, and would be wise to place the school on probation. The college does need to show that it can reliably muster enough money to support its mission year after year. But the college can’t make its case by failing to admit a new class of students in the fall. If the New England Association of Schools and Colleges really wants what’s best for Urban College, it will dial back the pressure and give the college a fair chance to regain its financial footing.