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Baltimore International College set to hand control to Va.-based Stratford

Baltimore International College is set to hand over control of its operations to Virginia's Stratford University after restructuring its debt and receiving approval from the required accrediting agencies.

The downtown culinary college held its final graduation Dec. 10 and will officially become a branch of Stratford on Jan. 1. Baltimore International students will be able to continue their classes at Stratford in January, and the branch will begin admitting new students in February.

Charles Nabit, chairman of Baltimore International's board of trustees, said the takeover represents a happy ending for the city and for a college that was in imminent peril of losing its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education at the end of the summer. That penalty would have cost Baltimore International its federal financial aid funding and would likely have forced the college to shut down.

"It's a good ending for the city of Baltimore, which is wholly dependent on tourism for its lifeblood," Nabit said. "There is a constant need for trained people who have a calling for this work."

Stratford President Richard Shurtz said the university expects to serve about 250 students in its first semester in Baltimore, more than 100 of them holdovers from Baltimore International. He added that Stratford will retain about half of Baltimore International's core educational staff, including most of the culinary instructors.

"In the culinary department, they had some excellent faculty," Shurtz said.

He said Stratford will not retain any of Baltimore International's general education faculty because the college's approach to nonculinary subjects was out of step with Stratford's methods and curriculum. Middle States cited a lack of clear objectives in general education as one of Baltimore International's significant problems.

"The culinary department was not ever really the issue," Shurtz said.

Baltimore International students and faculty members faced weeks of uncertainty this fall as the battle between Middle States and the college's administration went to federal court. The sides reached a settlement in early September, allowing Baltimore International to operate for one more semester while working out the details of the Stratford takeover.

Once the settlement was reached, the process went fairly smoothly, Nabit said.

In November, Stratford received permission from the Maryland Higher Education Commission to operate a branch campus in Baltimore. The for-profit university then received clearance from its own oversight agency, the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

Meanwhile, Baltimore International's board worked with BB&T Bank to restructure the institution's $10 million in debt. Nabit said the settlement papers were signed Thursday morning.

The college's board plans to dissolve at the end of December, when the Stratford takeover is executed. It will then re-form as a smaller foundation board designed only to manage the remaining debt. Once the annual debt service is paid, Nabit said, the reconstituted board will use any leftover funds to support scholarships at Stratford's Baltimore branch, possibly as early as fall 2012.

Stratford will lease Baltimore International's downtown headquarters and its culinary arts center in Little Italy, with an eventual option to buy both. The college's remaining real estate assets, which include hotels in Baltimore and Ireland, will likely be sold to pay off the debt, Nabit said.

He said the college has also reached a preliminary legal settlement with its founder and former president Roger Chylinski, who sued for $5 million in April, claiming he was not receiving a promised $17,000-a-month retirement benefit. "We're still working on solidifying the terms," Nabit said.

Chylinski's attorney, Kathleen Cahill, did not respond to a call seeking comment.

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