CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The lives of hundreds of students like Ashton Miller were thrown into disarray after a debt-ridden university in West Virginia announced just before the start of fall classes that it plans to cease operations.
Alderson Broaddus University’s Board of Trustees voted Monday night to develop a plan to disband after another board overseeing the state’s four-year colleges and universities revoked the small private school’s ability to award degrees effective Dec. 31.
Now, the 625 students on the Baptist university’s Philippi campus are looking elsewhere — and fast. College campuses everywhere soon will be bustling with activity.
The decision left students feeling a wide range of emotions, including sadness, frustration, anger and bewilderment.
“I’ve got pretty much two weeks to find a new school and get everything set up to go there, just reset the whole process,” said Miller, a sophomore.
Miller was a member of the Battlers wrestling team. He said he has only heard second-hand information about the closing.
“I’ve not been contacted by the school. I’ve not been contacted by my coach,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything from anyone. The school is not giving us any information, which is frustrating everybody.”
Alderson Broaddus was supposed to play its football opener in Philippi, West Virginia, on Aug. 31. Now the entire season is gone, along with those of other athletic teams as well as school extracurricular activities.
“With all the hard work we’ve put in here to get this program turned around, we knew this was the year we were going to start to see the fruits of our labor,” third-year football coach Travis Everhart said. “We were very, very pleased with the progress we were making and really excited about what was to happen.
“Now, we’ll never know.”
Suddenly, social media has become a transfer portal of sorts for Alderson Broaddus athletes who are listing their achievements and posting that they are available for recruitment.
Most athletes that Miller knows at Alderson Broaddus, especially on the wrestling team, were from out of state. Miller, who lives in Prince George, Virginia, said he can’t attend a Virginia college because deadlines for transferring have already closed. His options include some West Virginia schools that could fast-track his application.
Other state universities, including West Virginia Wesleyan in nearby Buckhannon and Fairmont State University in Fairmont, have offered application and transcript evaluation assistance to Alderson Broaddus students.
“As a neighboring university, Alderson Broaddus has always been a good and respected friend of Fairmont State, and our thoughts are with the students and staff, as well as with the community of Philippi as they begin to navigate the effects of this impactful decision,” Fairmont State said in a statement Tuesday.
Fairmont State said it has established a scholarship fund specifically for transferring Alderson Broaddus students.
Still to be announced is exactly when Alderson Broaddus will dissolve. The school’s statement on Monday night wasn’t clear. Alderson Broaddus said it planned to have more information about helping students, faculty and staff, board chairman James Garvin said in a statement.
Earlier Monday, the Higher Education Policy Commission voted to prohibit Alderson Broaddus from awarding degrees starting Dec. 31. The commission also authorized its chancellor to enter an order directing the school’s next steps, which include not accepting new students or allowing returning students to come back, except for seniors scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester.
Alderson Broaddus, which was founded in 1932, has been struggling financially for several years. A bank official said in 2015 that the university had defaulted on repayment of bonds totaling more than $36 million. An accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission, placed the school on probation in 2017, then lifted it in 2019.
The financial struggles included $775,000 in utility debts. Monday was the deadline for the university’s utilities to be shut off if a payment had not been made to the city of Philippi. During Monday’s commission meeting, Garvin confirmed that a $67,000 payment had been made.
The commission also was told last month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had previously agreed to restructure a $27 million loan to the university to allow for a more flexible cash flow. The school was offered assistance through a USDA program providing loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas.
The university also sought alumni contributions this year to help meet payroll.
Student Avery James said the stress of the university’s closure is about more than just finding a new school.
“That’s only part of it, but that was our home,” James said on Facebook. “We didn’t know when we left for the summer that it would be our last time there. For some of us, it was our last goodbye to our friends who became family, our professors and administrators who got us through the bad days, the cleaners who always made us smile in the morning on the way to class. Rebuilding those connections doesn’t just happen overnight.”