BRISTOL, Va. - A local college is mere weeks away from a major turning point for its future and its ability to stay in business.
Financial problems have become the plague Virginia Intermont can't seem to cure. With its accreditation on probation, school administrators are faced with a major task to make the numbers balance. "Low expendable net assets, and its depreciation on the books mostly due to the equine program," describes President Clorisa Phillips.
Ironically it's the equestrienne program that Virginia Intermont has become known for that is saddling the school with many financial burdens.
It's accounting issues that Phillips says date back decades and can't be turned around overnight. "To change drastically it would take major gifts," says Phillips.
Strapped for cash, the school now uses payment plans with vendors to keep services operating and is often issuing paper checks to pay employees because they are slower than direct deposit. "We paid all employees; we pay them on time, if they don't pick up the check we mail it," explained Phillips.
Because of the financial straits, Phillips has previously asked some employees to delay cashing their paycheck, but she says that is not a general practice.
The school has no endowment, leaving it to rely heavily on fundraising; Phillips says that is greatly hampered by the fact that only four percent of alumni give back, an amount that's only a fraction of what is typical. "Outside funding agents see alumni don't give, they go through the process of 'Why should we give?'" Phillips said.
Virginia Intermont must submit its next report on turning the financial tide by May 15 to the accreditation board and a month and a half later they'll receive one of three answers:
probation is lifted, probation is continued, or accreditation is terminated.
"VI needed to change, and needs to change drastically in the way it operates," Phillips said. She says everything is on the table, including her own tenure.
She won't yet offer specifics about what's being discussed and stopped short of directly answering if Virginia Intermont could merge with another school. "The trustees and I are looking at all of the options," said Philips. "We would be remiss if we didn't, but closing is not one of those options."
Virginia Intermont started the fall semester with 459 students. Phillips says the accreditation probation led to a larger than expected number of students leaving the school before the start of the spring semester.
But they have seen a larger than expected number of non-traditional students, such as adults, enroll.
The school is trying to raise money as quickly as possible.