Future uncertain: Virginia Intermont merger talks with Fla. school end without deal

Nathan Baker • Apr 16, 2014 at 10:33 AM

BRISTOL, Va. — The future of a beleaguered private college in Bristol, Va., is uncertain after the announcement Tuesday that its plans to merge with a Florida school had fallen apart.

With deep disappointment, Virginia Intermont President E. Clorisa Phillips released a statement announcing the end of talks with Babson Park, Fla.’s Webber International University for a merger agreement between the two schools.

In the statement, Phillips said both schools regretted not being able to forge a viable model for the possible merger first announced in January.

Facing sanctions and a loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges based on VI’s bleak financial outlook, the school gleefully entered into a memorandum of understanding to merge with Webber International by July, which would have allowed it to share Webber’s accreditation.

Virginia Intermont’s accreditation was first threatened by the SACS in 2007, when the body placed the university under sanctions for two years and nearly forced it to close.

In 2011, VI was given a warning by SACS, a lesser sanction, then probation was again instated in December 2012, forcing the school to seek a merger or a partner to keep from losing accreditation and possibly closing.

In her statement, Phillips said the college would still complete the current semester, keep scholarship in place and hold graduation commencement on time. The eight-week summer session, ending in June, will still take place as scheduled.

After that, school administrators are “moving with haste to guarantee accredited options beyond July 1 for our students who are not slated for graduation,” she said.

Faculty and staff meetings will delve into plans to keep the college operating over the coming months.

Webber President Keith Wade said Tuesday he was not aware of the specifics of VI’s future plans to remain a viable institution.

“I can only pray that it is a good plan and that they have the stamina and resources to execute it,” Wade said in an email. “We have nothing but respect for the people — students, faculty, administration, staff, coaches, trustees — of VI. Lord knows they are committed to achieving the best outcome possible.”

Wade said Virginia Intermont students were welcome to transfer to Webber, and college representatives are willing to visit the Bristol campus to interview staff members for open faculty positions, if VI was willing to allow it.

“I cannot provide details regarding the anticipated July 1 merger beyond stating that everyone involved tried to make it work and we just could not,” he said, citing a confidentiality agreement signed by both schools.

The private school, like similar universities across the country, has experienced slipping enrollment numbers in recent years, leading to its current financial position.

From 2010 to the fall semester, VI reported a 35 percent enrollment decline to state authorities.

Other schools, like Lawrenceville, Va.’s St. Paul’s College have been shuttered by falling revenues.

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