MAYFIELD - Leaders of Mid-Continent University reinforced their encouragement and optimism that the school will remain open despite financial issues that still threaten the college.
New acting president Ken Winters spoke to a group of more than 300 students, faculty and community members Monday morning during the school's chapel time in the Cougar Center. Winters has worked in higher education at Murray State University and as president of Campbellsville University. He served as a state senator representing the First District from 2004 to 2012.
The Board of Trustees approved Robert Imhoff's offer to step aside and give presidential authority to Winters at a meeting Saturday. He remains in a transitional role to assist Winters. Numerous relatives of Imhoff's, including wife Jackie Imhoff, who serves as vice president for adult programs, are still employed at the school and no additional administrative changes are planned at this time, according to board chairman Tom Butler.
Winters spoke about the school's dire fiscal climate because of the rejection of three prior rounds of financial aid paperwork by the U.S. Department of Education. The inability to access those funds has forced the school to pay about $9 million toward student educational costs in the past five months.
"This situation will demand attention on our part over the next few weeks," he said. "In the short term, I plan to do what I can to ensure that yours and the school's futures are prosperous."
Several students voiced a high level of frustration at the lack of communication between administration and the student body. Monday's meeting was the first time school leaders addressed students regarding the situation since a closed meeting Feb. 14, according to sophomore Ryan Brightwell.
He pleaded with Winters and other school officials for honesty throughout this process and requested a document in writing that confirmed students would receive credit hours for completed classes and that those hours would be transferable.
"The lack of communication has been the most frustrating part," Brightwell said.
Junior Joe Gilmore voiced annoyance following the chapel that students hadn't learned any new information and remained in the dark about the most important issues affecting them.
"Just tell us the truth, that's all we are asking for," Gilmore said.
Tim Walker, Mid-Continent vice president of finance, drove the fourth round of documentation to the Department of Education's field office in Kansas City on Sunday. It is hoped that department officials will examine a sample of the paperwork and then unlock enough funding for the short term, according to Paula Clendenen, Mid-Continent executive director of financial aid.
The school would then follow up with a complete report that would release most of about $7 million in frozen monetary resources. Mid-Continent has to provide past documentation that accounts for a timeline of fund disbursement starting when students began classes. The first documents, currently being reviewed, are the most important and will spell out the requirements for non-term schools and pave the way for the next, more in-depth round, she said.
"We are working to make up for the sins of the past," Clendenen said. "The process had to change but we are working hard to get exactly what we need to make sure we don't ever have this issue again."
Following conversations with Department of Education officials, including Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, school leaders are confident that these documents will be generally error free. The school should receive notice of the success or failure in meeting the department's requirements by the end of the week, Winters said.
"Because Mid-Continent is a no-term institution, there has been more difficulty meeting the demands for the style and type of material the department needs," he said.
The school operates on a budget of about $2 million a month and would need about $6 million to reach spring graduation. Mid-Continent has an enrollment of around 2,400 students. About 88 percent are enrolled in the Advantage online program and the other 12 percent in the traditional, on-campus program.
"Every expectation I have is that we will make it to the completion of this graduation ceremony," Winters said.
He has been given broad authority by the board to make decisions related to cutting the $22 million budget. Butler said although Winters would have the authority to act, the board hasn't discussed reductions to the athletic programs.
Winters will evaluate the school's surplus property, including university-owned vehicles and land across the highway on U.S. 45 from the Mayfield campus and about 18 acres on Pecan Drive in Paducah, where the school had planned to add a satellite campus for the Advantage Program.
Additional options include trying to procure a lump-sum payment from the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority for Kentucky Tuition Grants and College Access Program grants. School officials are also soliciting private donations from individuals and Baptist churches to help keep the university afloat.
Winters said he plans to schedule a meeting with faculty members this week and hopes to set a regular time for town hall style forums for students to air their concerns. A Board of Trustees meeting is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Advantage building on campus.
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.
posted on: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:59 AM
Title: Online, out of area students?
Because I am a online, out of area student who lives in Muhlenberg County, I am depending on ONLY what I read in the Paducah Sun. It would be nice it the college admin would communicate with those of us in my predicament by a online forum with a Q&A session.