Financially plagued Sojourner-Douglass may become part of Stratford University

Sojourner-Douglass would become a new school with a new accreditation.

Officials at Stratford University, a for-profit institution based in Virginia, say they have signed a memorandum of understanding with Sojourner-Douglass College that would make the financially strapped Baltimore school a part of its system.

Stratford President Richard Shurtz said Wednesday that the agreement provides a framework to establish the Sojourner-Douglass Center at Stratford University. The school would offer programs in nursing, health sciences, information technology and business.

"We have a very good match with the curriculum offerings at Sojourner-Douglass," Shurtz said. "The goal of this endeavor would be to continue the tradition of Sojourner-Douglass within the Baltimore City community."

Shurtz said a formal announcement with details of the pact would be made this month. He said current Sojourner-Douglass faculty and staff would need to reapply for their jobs.

"We've been contacted by students and so many people," Shurtz said. "The community at large needed to know at least there's a movement forward."

Sojourner-Douglass President Charles Simmons did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Sojourner-Douglass, founded in 1972 as the Homestead-Montebello Center of Antioch College, serves mostly adult students. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education withdrew the school's accreditation in November, saying its financial resources were inadequate.

Jennie Hunter-Cevera, acting secretary for the Maryland Higher Education Commission, praised Stratford for "stepping up to the plate with a plan that would enable students to continue their pursuits."

Hunter-Cevera said Stratford would still have to pursue approvals with the commission, but the commission will contact institutions that signed agreements to enroll Sojourner-Douglass students. Those institutions were recruited to help students after the loss of accreditation led to concerns Sojourner-Douglass would shut down.

"It is MHEC's obligation to focus on the needs of the students first, to ensure a fair and equitable opportunity for them to have a choice as to where they will continue their education," Hunter-Cevera said.

Sojourner-Douglass closed its Anne Arundel County campus after failing to pay rent and has struggled to pay employees on time.

The school lost an appeal of the commission's decision to revoke accreditation. Simmons said in January that enrollment had slipped from 1,300 students to about 850.

The college has received most of its funding from federal Pell Grants. Losing accreditation makes it ineligible for federal funding.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he encouraged Shurtz to meet with Simmons. He said Simmons has invested "his blood, sweat and tears to provide a college for students who would not otherwise be able to go because of their work schedules.

"I'm glad they have an agreement so the legacy of Sojourner-Douglass can remain," Young said.

Sojourner-Douglass would become the second Baltimore-area school to become part of the Stratford system. In 2011, Baltimore International College, the downtown culinary and hospitality school, became part of Stratford after losing its accreditation.

Shurtz said Stratford is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, and once Sojourner-Douglass becomes a Stratford school, it would receive an one-year provisional accreditation with ACICS as a new campus.

Stratford, which is based in Oakton, Va., has seven campuses in the United States. All are in Virginia except its Baltimore culinary campus. Shurtz said officials were evaluating other Sojourner-Douglass campuses.

In addition to Annapolis, the school has operated satellite locations in Salisbury, Cambridge, Lanham, Owings Mills and in Nassau, Bahamas.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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