Churches ask members to help financially-strapped Hiwassee College

Churches ask members to help financially-strapped Hiwassee College

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By WHITNEY HOLMES
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Hiwassee College in Madisonville has been around for 159 years but now, it's in danger of going broke and closing its doors.

The school, a private, two-year, residential United Methodist college, was hit by financial problems even before the economy took a drastic turn for the worse.

The college aims to help those from low-income families who never thought they could go to college, according to pamphlet included in the churches' bulletin.

Now, churches are pitching in to help keep its mission alive.

Answering the call of Bishop James Swanson, 906 United Methodist churches in the Holston Conference asked members to open their wallets to save Hiwassee College.

The United Methodist Church says the school is in need of $4.4 million to stay afloat.

Hiwassee College teacher Alan Eleazer says he knows they're asking for help at a time when people may not have a lot to give. "Just like every other non-profit, people are not as free to contribute so that causes problems with regular endowments of the school."

The college needs churches' help because it lost its federal and state funding when it lost its accreditation in April 2008.

For years, the financially strapped school was embroiled in a lawsuit with its accrediting body, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

SACS took negative action in December 2004, saying the school could not support programs and the scope of the services. However, the school officials say they continue to provide quality education with improved services and resources, and have started new programs.

When the accreditation was pulled, so was its funding.

Eleazer says the accreditation was taken due to financial, not academic, concerns.

Church donations from Sunday will help cover the almost million and a half dollars in scholarship money the school's lost. That's forced many students to drop out.

The college's enrollment is now down about 75 percent to 110 students.

"Without extra funding, the college has had to step in and cover the unfunded scholarships to keep the students there," Eleazer says. "It's just been traumatic on the students and our enrollment is down because of that as well."

The average family income at Hiwassee College is $22,000, according to the church pamphlet.

Hiwassee College plans to get its accreditation back from a different accrediting body by April. It hopes to get its funding back soon after.

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