Questions arise as Hiwassee College closes because of financial reasons

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A number of Hiwassee College alumni and those in the community have reached out to WATE 6 On Your Side regarding a possible investigation happening at the institution as it closes for good this week.

Hiwassee College announced this spring that their board of trustees voted to close the institution on May 10 because of financial reasons. There are currently 225 students enrolled full-time, with 33 students set to graduate this spring.

Related: Students, parents say mistrust remains about Hiwassee College closure

Alumni who reached out wanted to know if an investigation was taking place as the college prepared for its final graduation.

Hiwassee College President Dr. Robin Tricoli tells us Monroe County District Attorney General Stephen D. Crump, representatives from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury came to campus Wednesday afternoon and met with her, as well as several members of the College’s business office and administration.

Dr. Tricoli said in a statement:

“Hiwassee’s understanding at this point is that it is likely that a disgruntled former employee or faculty member has made allegations and/or assumptions regarding Hiwassee’s financial operations which are false and misleading, but which must be thoroughly investigated. We voluntarily met for several hours with Mr. Crump’s team and supplied all financial records and supporting matierals which were requested, and we will supply any additional follow-up materials which they would like to review. We are confident that our operations are all conducted properly, but that does not change the fact that Hiwasee’s closure is a heartbreaking event for our whole community.”

Monroe County District Attorney General Stephen D. Crump said in a statement:

“Our office has a policy that we do not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation or our involvement in a matter until the matter has reached the point where it is appropriate.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation referred questions to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office.

Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury sent this statement when asked about a possible investigation:

“The Comptroller’s Office has broad authority to review colleges and universities including Hiwassee College. It is our policy not to comment further.”

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Student Assistance Corporation director of communications, Jessica Powers, sent the following statement:

“Tennessee higher education institutions which receive financial aid and close, such as Hiwassee College, will undergo a financial aid review by TSAC. Our review indicated nothing abnormal.”

Dr. Tricoli pointed to declining enrollment that she says created this growing financial hardship and necessitated Hiwassee’s closure. She went on to say:

“We can understand that the state would want to look very closely to verify that something else is not at play. We welcome this inquiry and will cooperate fully with the District Attorney’s Office if any additional information might be needed as they complete their work.”

Hiwassee College leadership pointed in March to growing marketplace trends including substantially discounted or highly subsidized public education, changes in demographics, our rural location, and declining enrollment as to why the closure would be happening at the end of the semester.

The college in Madisonville, Tenn., was founded in 1849 and offered associate and four-year degrees. It has been closely tied to the Methodist Church since its founding and has been officially operated by the Holston Conference since 1937.

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