Baltimore International College, a private institution that teaches cooking skills and hospitality management, is slated to lose its accreditation at the end of the summer, a rare blow that generally causes colleges and universities to close.
The downtown college, which enrolled 474 undergraduates and 19 graduate students in the spring, would be unable to receive federal financial aid if it loses accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
"It is very difficult" to continue operating without accreditation, said the college's president, Edgar B. Schick.
He said the college's Board of Trustees would meet Wednesdayto decide how to proceed. Options include a request for reconsideration from the commission's executive committee, followed by an appeal to a panel of evaluators who were not involved in the original decision to deny accreditation. The college has 30 days from the date it received the decision to begin the appeals process.
The commission decided last week to remove the college's accreditation on Aug. 31 after the college repeatedly failed to address concerns first raised in a 2007 review. According to the commission's report, problems included an underdeveloped system for measuring educational results, a lack of clarity regarding the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Trustees, and a lack of published guidelines for faculty members.
"This was not a rash decision," said Richard Pokrass, director of communications for the Middle States Commission. "It was something that was spoken about for a very long time. The commission just felt there was no possible way they could come into compliance in a reasonable amount of time."
The news left faculty and students confused and unsure whether the college, accredited since 1996, has any recourse.
On the college's Facebook page, students expressed frustration at a lack of clear information on the institution's future.
Mary Ann Moon, a Clarksburg resident whose son began a two-year program at the college last September, said rumors have been flying for months about the accreditation problem. "It just would be such a step backward if the rug gets pulled out from under him this way," she said.
Schick, who became president in May 2010 with the accreditation battle well under way, said the college has taken "major strides in a short period of time" to address the commission's concerns.
He said that under his watch, the college has established a faculty senate, published a faculty handbook, adopted a mission statement and crafted a strategic plan that ties every course to that mission.
But the commission's written decision said, "These and prior institutional reports and responses have not adequately addressed the commission's ongoing and longstanding concerns with the general quality of the institution and they have failed to document that the institution has achieved and can sustain ongoing compliance."
"I was surprised," Schick said of the decision to remove accreditation. "I had no reason to believe we had not made the progress requested of us in a short period of time."
Moon gave the college, founded in 1972 and based a few blocks from the Inner Harbor on Commerce Street, a mixed review. "I would say we've been quite disappointed in the quality of a lot of things there," she said, listing dorm conditions, poorly organized administration and of all things, food quality, as problems.
"But all of the food courses have been great," she said. "My son has learned a ton and he's loved it. And he is a kid who absolutely hates school."
She said he planned to go to Ireland this fall as part of the college's exchange program, but "I guess that's up in the air now."
Though membership in the Middle States Commission is voluntary, institutions often close rapidly after they lose accreditation. Diplomas are devalued, and the loss of federal financial aid is devastating to revenue.
The commission rarely removes accreditation. According to its website, the last institution to suffer such a fate was Southeastern University in Washington in 2009. Southeastern ceased offering classes a few months later.
According to the commission's documentation on Baltimore International, the college, which charges $27,390 in annual tuition and fees, had opportunities to demonstrate progress through a series of reports and site visits in 2009, 2010 and earlier this year.
If the college does not appeal, it has 30 days to give the commission a plan for helping current students to transfer or graduate. Options include securing spots for students at other schools, offering accelerated degree programs for those who are close to graduation and setting up means for students to obtain transcripts after the college has gone out of business.
Schick said he is awaiting the board's guidance Wednesday before informing students of the pending loss of accreditation and of how the college will proceed. But he said that if students wish to transfer, "we'll certainly assist them in any way."
"I believe the students who have enrolled or are enrolled are receiving good education in the fields in which we're offering degrees," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jill Rosen contributed to this article.