Accrediting agency places Martin University on probation

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Indiana's only predominantly black institution of higher education has been placed on probation by its accrediting agency because of low graduation rates and shaky finances.

Only 2.6 percent of Martin University's full-time students graduated within four years and its six-year completion rate of 14.3 percent "was also extremely low," the North Central Association's Higher Learning Commission said in a letter to the school, The Indianapolis Star reported Thursday.

Martin also has struggled with falling percentages of students who return after their first year. The Indianapolis university set modest goals to improve the low graduation and retention rates but did not identifying their causes or strategies to address them, the commission said.

The commission cited concerns over Martin's finances, particularly after its fall enrollment of 522 students came in more than 25 percent below projections, leading to a $600,000 shortfall and layoffs.

Martin must complete a self-study and host an evaluation team later this year. It's due for another hearing in February 2015 for the commission to decide whether to drop the probation, continue it or remove its accreditation.

Accreditation helps students transfer credits between accredited institutions and allows a school to qualify for federal financial aid. About 90 percent of Martin University's students receive Pell grants or federal loans, the National Center for Education Statistics reports.

University President Eugene White says the probation is the commission's way of ensuring the 520-student school understands the seriousness of the problems but says the issues are "totally correctable."

"What I fear is that some people may use (probation) as an excuse to dissuade students from attending. And we don't need that," said White, who became president in September.

The university named for Dr. Martin Luther King was founded in 1977.

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