Students, parents say mistrust remains about Hiwassee College closure

Local News
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Students and their parents were able to ask questions and share concerns with Hiwassee College leadership during a meeting early Friday morning, as the institution readies to close its doors in May.

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

More: East Tenn. colleges offer help displaced Hiwassee College students

Students and alumni showed up last Friday to protest a closed-door meeting at Hiwassee College. Students said they wanted answers. They said they were confused about why their college is closing and feel like they’re being left in the dark, especially since they weren’t allowed in the meeting.

This time, students say while they were able to ask questions, the environment was hostile and they say they felt frustrated.

“A lot of people just wanted to be heard,” said junior Michael Decker.

“At this point, there’s nothing that can save the school. So, really I’m just worried about my future. I just want to know which schools are going to take my credits,” said junior Claudia Hutchins.

Students and parents say there were questions during the meeting about finances, leadership and what’s next.

“I’m at work. I should be there but my daughter pleaded with me to stay and try to help be a voice for the students,” said parent Melissa Graves.

Some alumni also attended the meeting saying they felt like they weren’t given an opportunity to come up with solutions.

“This school has been down to 92 students before and alumni have come through and the churches have come through. This time the board of trustees did not inform the alumni,” said Lawrence Johnson, a Hiwassee College 1956 alumnus.

Hiwassee College President Dr. Robin Tricoli says they expected Friday’s meeting to be one with frustration and heartbreak. 

“It’s very hard to put a business decision on top of emotions,” Tricoli said.

Tricoli says the closure is a business decision that comes down to lack of finances, specifically major gifts, and enrollment. 

“You can’t misuse what you don’t have. We have an external auditor that comes in every single year. We’re audited by the Tennessee Student Accounts Organization. We have to follow tracks, we have to follow the Council for Higher Education Administration,” Tricoli said on the question of misuse of funds.

She says enrollment drives an institution’s budget and creates revenue to be competitive among other colleges.

“No one planned to be here. We planned to be at 400 to 500 students by now and we simply could not get there,” added Tricoli.

Students say they’re making the best out of a bad situation.

“It’s going to be tough not knowing where everyone is going and knowing we won’t all be coming back to the same place,” said freshman Dalton Rector.

There’s another opportunity for alumni to share questions and concerns with college leadership on April 27 at 11:30 a.m.

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