Virginia Union University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097: Telephone number 404-679-4500) to award Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Social Work, Master in Christian Education, Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction, Master of Divinity, and Doctor of Divinity. Contact the Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, Georgia 30033-4097 or call 404-679-4500 for questions about the accreditation of Virginia Union University. Undergraduate and graduate programs also are accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS), the Association of Collegiate Business Schools (ACBSP), the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Other affiliations of the University include membership in the College Fund/UNCF, the American Council on Education, The College Board, the Council of Independent Colleges, the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, The Richmond Oral History Association, Beta Kappa Chi National Honor Scientific Society, Alpha Kappa Mu National Honor Society, the Association of American Colleges, and the College Entrance Examination Board.
December 8, 2023
Dear Members of the Virginia Union Community,
I am writing to let you know that Virginia Union has received the results of the review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the agency that accredits the University.
Virginia Union remains accredited, our march toward best-in-class continues, and we continue working to align our operations with our aspirations.
This week, the agency reported that Virginia Union “was continued in accreditation for Good Cause.” However, this designation came with a caveat, and we are being placed on probation.
At the same time, great things are happening at the University, and we are making tremendous progress. The University is delivering record enrollment, strong financial performance, and rising rankings. So, I want to explain the nuances thoughtfully, in full transparency, to help everyone understand what this means and how everything fits together.
First, I reported to you last year that we were on “monitoring with warning” status, with the responsibility of improving performance on meeting standards for institutional effectiveness and for filing the financial audit in a timely manner. I am pleased to report that we achieved these goals, and the SACSCOC board found that “the institution has demonstrated recent significant accomplishments.” We have come a long way over the past year.
Second, at the same time, SACSCOC also expects more from universities that aspire to be best-in-class. This includes not only submitting the financial audit on time, but also making sure that the audit is free of comments about ways to improve financial controls, even as such “findings” are quite common in the audits of large organizations. While we received an “unqualified opinion,” our audit also included findings. We have consistently generated a clean audit, and we expect to deliver one with no findings in the year ahead. I will discuss below the steps we are taking to do this.
Third, the SACSCOC rules say, “the maximum...time for a monitoring period is two years [and] Virginia Union was at the end of its two-year monitoring period.” Therefore, the rules leave only two options—remove accreditation (which is clearly not warranted, especially considering our progress) or place the institution on “probation” for the 12 months it will take to deliver an audit with no findings. The agency said there are no other reasons that would preclude removal of probation after 12 months.
While we are disappointed, it is important to understand that the University agrees: We aspire to an audit with no findings. We have delivered these in the past, and we expect to deliver one again in 2024.
To accomplish this, the Board of Trustees has directed me to take all measures necessary to achieve an on-time audit with zero findings.
To ensure greater day-to-day oversight, the University’s Chief Financial Officer now reports directly to me, as President. I have directed the CFO and the Business Office to implement an Audit Readiness and Effectiveness Plan. This includes expanding the Business Office, and we have brought in an outside accounting firm to supplement our internal team. I have directed them to streamline internal processes, reduce the time it takes to accomplish transactions, and demonstrate the commitment to compliance that our stakeholders expect. We are working with our auditors to conduct an interim review of audit procedures to ensure timely identification and correction of any concerns.
To ensure appropriate governance and oversight, we are creating an Internal Audit Committee of leaders from across the University, and the Board of Trustees will monitor progress by holding monthly meetings of the Executive Committee, the Audit Committee, and the Finance and Investment Committees. The Board has recently recruited new members, and outside advisors, with deep experience in meeting the SACSCOC standards. This will further strengthen the Board’s ability to exercise its fiduciary responsibility.
It is important to acknowledge that we continue to manage the impact of COVID-era learning loss and balance the desire of students earning a college education while needing financial aid and not taking student loan debt. While this issue is not unusual in higher education, Virginia Union continually strives to balance our historic commitment to social justice with the practical reality that it costs significant sums of money to run a sustainable institution. For an historic private HBCU, this includes managing the impacts of historic underfunding, continually maintaining an historic physical plant—in an inflationary economy—to produce best-in-class results for individual students and for the institution.
These are significant tasks, and we embrace them. We do so with great excitement, because of where the University is, and where we are going.
This semester, Virginia Union attained the highest enrollment in its 158-year history. This semester’s enrollment of 2,068 represents an 11% increase over the previous year, with rising numbers of both undergraduate and graduate students. Our student population is now one-quarter larger than pre-pandemic levels. Students are choosing Virginia Union in record numbers, and this is cause for celebration!
The University’s financial stability remains strong. Revenue has grown 39% compared to pre-COVID levels. Net assets are up 13% over that period, and long-term debt is down 29%. We have just completed the highest fundraising year in our 158-year history (raising $27.8 million), and fundraising is up a full 350% over pre-pandemic levels.
Virginia Union is rising in the rankings. Virginia Union now ranks as the country’s 39th-best HBCU, according to the most recent U.S. News national rankings. When we began this upward trajectory, the university was not ranked at all. Today, we are the only HBCU to consistently improve seven years in a row. (It’s especially exciting to rise in the same year when our football teams soared to the CIAA Championship for the first time in more than two decades!)
These are all reasons to celebrate, and they challenge us to move faster and do more. In the weeks ahead, you will hear more about actions our Board of Trustees has taken to modernize our existing facilities, to re-imagine our campus for growth, and to invest in new programs to create opportunities for tomorrow’s students.
As we look to Christmas and the holidays, may we all be thankful for one another and for this great institution. The new year brings renewal and a moment to re-commit to our work of creating opportunities for students. Thank you for your support of this important University, and I wish you all the best for the holidays.
Hakim J. Lucas, Ph.D.
President & CEO