Nearly 170-year-old private college in Alabama says it will close at the end of May

by 24USATVMarch 28, 2024, midnight 22
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Birmingham-Southern College, a private liberal arts college in Alabama, will close at the end of May after running into financial difficulties and being unable to secure a financial lifeline from the state, officials announced Tuesday.

The College Board of Trustees voted unanimously to close the longtime institution, officials said in a news release. The announcement came after legislation aimed at securing a taxpayer-backed loan for the 168-year-old private college recently stalled in the Alabama Statehouse.

“This is a tragic day for the College, our students, our employees, and our alumni,” the Rev. Keith D. Thompson, chairman of the Board of Trustees, said in a statement from the college. “But it is also a terrible day for Birmingham, for the neighborhoods who have surrounded our campus for more than 100 years, and for Alabama.”

A number of small private colleges nationwide are struggling with a declining number of traditional college-aged students and competition from larger, richer institutions.

The college of about 1,000 students is located on the west side of Birmingham, one of Alabama’s principal cities.

The decision to close follows years of financial difficulties and efforts to keep the institution open. The college said the financial crash of 2009 caused a $25 million loss to the value of its endowment. An audit in 2010 uncovered significant accounting errors in the budgeting of federal student financial aid, which led to budget cuts and layoffs. Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the college’s bonds after revenue declines caused the college to drew heavily upon its endowment.

The private college had hoped to secure a financial lifeline from the state. The Alabama Legislature created a loan program last year to provide financial help to distressed colleges, but state Treasurer Young Boozer denied the school’s loan application.

New legislation was introduced this year. The college said in a news release that conversations with House leadership “confirmed that the bill did not have enough support to move forward.”

Supporters of the legislation had hoped to keep the college open not just for the sake of the institution, but because of the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods if the 192-acre campus is shuttered.

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., said “the failure of state leaders to do their part and provide assistance to BSC is particularly disappointing.”

“For years, Birmingham-Southern College has propelled our state forward by producing outstanding graduates, many of whom I have had the privilege of employing,” she added, noting her current legislative aide and chief of staff are alums of the school.

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin said news of the closure is “disappointing and heartbreaking to all of us who recognize it as a stalwart of our community.”

“I’ve stood alongside members of our City Council to protect this institution and its proud legacy of shaping leaders. It’s frustrating that those values were not shared by lawmakers in Montgomery,” Woodfin said Tuesday.

Birmingham-Southern Provost Laura K. Stultz said the college is working on agreements with other institutions to helps students “maximize the transfer of credits to keep them on track.”

The school dates to 1856, when Southern University was founded in Greensboro, Alabama. That school merged with Birmingham College in 1918 to become Birmingham-Southern, with a campus west of downtown Birmingham.

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