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Birmingham-Southern College to Close Doors May 31

An 18-month financial battle and failed emergency loan force school to shutter

Birmingham-Southern College (BSC) in Birmingham, Alabama, will close its doors on May 31, leaving a legacy of more than 100 years as an educational cornerstone of the city.

Photo via Facebook @Birmingham-Southern College

“This is a tragic day for the College, our students, our employees, and our alumni,” said Board Chair Rev. Keith Thompson in a statement. “But it is also a terrible day for Birmingham, for the neighborhoods who have surrounded our campus for more than 100 years, and for Alabama.”

The news sent shockwaves across the state, WVTM News reported. This decision came on the heels of an 18-month financial battle for BSC. Last year, legislators passed a bill allowing the state treasurer to loan $30 million to colleges in emergency financial situations. A loan to BSC was considered all-but-guaranteed until State Treasurer Young Boozer declined it, the Alabama Reflector reported.

“We were expecting a different outcome,” said Matthew Dale, a current BSC student, in an interview with NBC. Dale said he knew there were financial problems but he stuck out his college days at BSC. “It’s not who I am to get up and flee from a place just because we are in danger.”

On October 18, BSC filed a lawsuit against the Treasurer’s Office claiming Boozer had wrongfully withheld the loan. Boozer was stated to be outside his jurisdiction with his decision. While the Alabama Reflector reported that Judge James Anderson said he was “sympathetic” to the college, he dismissed the case after an hour-long hearing.

Alabama Rep. Juandalynn Givan told NBC news the situation was mishandled. “We have an education trust fund chair in the house that was not necessarily in support—or should I say kept in the loop. That’s a problem in itself.” Givan said she was shocked BSC is closing so quickly. “The reality is setting in.”

BSC said in a statement that it is working on arrangements to maximize credit transfers for students. The school is also working with a small group of seniors planning to graduate Summer 2024 to help them finish their degrees.

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BSC contributes to the local economy significantly and has been a cornerstone in the local landscape since 1918. The impact is not just for students and faculty but for Birmingham’s broader economy, said Sen. Rodger Smitherman. Smitherman co-sponsored the legislation designed to extend loans to endangered colleges and told the Alabama Reflector the news was a “tragedy” that would cost jobs and hurt businesses from the loss of students.

BSC’s demise highlights a challenge many private liberal arts colleges across the country are struggling with. The Hechinger Report reported in 2022 that 861 colleges had closed since 2004. Inside Higher Ed reported that 14 nonprofit four-year colleges closed in 2023, with a 15th essentially shutting down. These schools were mostly private, small and tuition-dependent schools with small endowments.

Ten of the 15 schools were religiously affiliated. In August, Harding School of Theology, the only freestanding seminary among the Churches of Christ denomination, announced shutting down its Memphis campus and moving to Harding University’s main campus in Searcy, Ark. In addition, The King’s College was de-credited in July 2023, Alderson Broaddus University hit financial crisis and closed in August 2023 and Alliance University also lost accreditation, also summer 2023.

BSC itself has religious roots, founded in 1918 when two Methodist colleges were merged—Southern University, chartered in 1856 in Greensboro, Ala., and Birmingham College, which opened in 1898. Their historical fight for proper funding and money allocation to deal with debt has been long-standing, including the leadership of its longest-serving president, Dr. Neal Berte. Under Berte, the BSC endowment stood at $122 million, BSC stated.

His successor, David Pollick, resigned in 2010 after his ambitious projects led BSC to eliminate five majors and 29 faculty members. When Daniel B. Coleman became BSC’s 16th president in December 2018, he crafted a plan that led to the passing of a bill in spring 2023 to allow for the $30 million lifeline to the college, according to BSC. Sadly, on March 26, the College’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to cease operations on May 31, 2024.

Doug Turner, an alumnus of the school, told Alabama Reflector that thousands of graduates who fought for last year’s bill thought the issue was settled. He said he thought this year’s bill was progressing until a decision was made “behind closed doors.”

“Frankly, we don’t have a lot of people covering the Alabama Legislature day to day and maybe we should because they’re really surprised that this is what happened,” Turner said to the Alabama Reflector. “And I think that it is for those of us who wish to continue investing in our communities, with our presence and our participation, we need to look to our state legislators and say, ‘What happened?’”

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