Cincinnati Christian University’s accrediting organization, the Higher Learning Commission, has issued a “Show-Cause Order” giving CCU one year to “demonstrate why its accreditation should not be withdrawn.”
During the one-year period, which began June 27, credits and degrees earned at CCU will be fully accredited by HLC, though the accrediting body, in its order, cautioned that “all colleges and universities define their own transfer and admission guidelines” and advised current students of CCU to “contact any institution they plan to attend in the future” to better understand their institutional policies.
According to a July 22 statement by CCU’s board of trustees signed by chairman Chris Hahn, “Our administration, faculty, and staff have been working diligently since the evaluation to correct the issues which were brought to light by HLC’s review. Many of these issues have already been resolved and we are confident that our team will be able to demonstrate CCU’s compliance with HLC’s standards within the allotted time frame, although this is ultimately HLC’s determination to make.”
“We accept responsibility for decisions which have led to this Show-Cause Order, as well as responsibility for the work necessary to demonstrate compliance with HLC’s standards.”
An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes CCU’s “bold moves” since 2015 “to try to reverse falling enrollment and flagging finances. . . . But instead of revitalizing the institution, those decisions are among the many that have pushed Cincinnati Christian toward the brink of financial ruin and put it at risk of losing its accreditation.”
There have been double-digit drops in retention and graduation rates, even as the university has been “hemorrhaging money” and debt has been increasing, the story said. A decision in 2015 to start a football program has been particularly expensive, and without the desired effect on overall growth.
The university has also laid off staff and faculty, with the faculty to student ratio increasing from 1:21 to 1:37 from one report to the next, HLC indicated. An updated mission statement in 2018 touting a shift to liberal arts education was not broadly understood by faculty and staff.
In HLC’s “formal notification of action” letter to CCU president Ron Heineman on July 11, the accrediting agency’s concerns are spelled out in detail. A particular concern is that Heineman serves both as president of CCU and as chief restructuring officer of Central Bank & Trust, the university’s primary lender. “The President considers the bank’s interests to take precedence over institutional interests, and he serves in the CRO role because the line of credit is essential to CCU’s survival.”
In the letter to Heineman, HLC also noted a “lack of transparency of Board operations, evidenced by no public meeting minutes reporting the Board’s decisions.”
CCU’s alums, students, and friends are engaging in lively discussion of this news on social media. The statement from the trustees, posted on Facebook July 22, had almost 200 comments as of Friday morning, with CCU responding to numerous concerns.
In the final paragraph of that statement, Hahn writes: “Again, we sincerely apologize for any confusion this situation may have caused. I invite you to contact myself, any of our Trustees, or Tom Thatcher, Provost, if you have questions or concerns.”
CCU’s website lists trustees and provides biographical and contact information: ccuniversity.edu/about/board-of-trustees.
The CCU website also has an “HLC Show Cause” page, a “Letter from the President,” and the “Statement from the Board of Trustees” (which is also shared on CCU’s Facebook page).