Concordia College in need of investors to remain open

Published 11:01 am Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Recent rumors of Concordia College Alabama closing its doors have become more than just hearsay. If something doesn’t change soon, it could be a reality.

The school’s Chief Transition Officer, Dr. James Lyons, who was brought on board last May, said the school is in a tough financial situation and faces the decision of closing its doors at the end of the semester if the college can’t strike a deal with an investor.

“For the past two and a half years probably, there has been what I call this closure cloud sort of hanging over the college,” Lyons said Monday. “Are we going to close? Aren’t we? When I arrived eight months ago, I had students ask me, ‘Are we really going close? We hear this every semester.’”

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Lyons was brought in when the school was looking to find new ownership. Lyons said an investor was lined up and even made a substantial contribution to the school, but the deal fell through.

“It was so bad that when I arrived in May, I made contact with a donor that had not sent us money because the word was that the college had already closed,” Lyons said. “I spoke with the donor and said no, we’re open. I’m here. Here’s the mailing address. But that’s how bad it has gotten.”

Concordia College Alabama, an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), was founded in 1922. The school currently has a student population of around 450 and a staff of just under 100, according to Lyons.

He met with them all recently to explain the school’s situation. He said the college’s board of regents has been working over the last several years to find investors, but so far, that search has not been successful.

“The board has had conversations with at least seven investor-partners trying to bring large sums of dollars to the table to not only pay off the current mortgage, but put the college in a position where it can move beyond this notion every semester of are we going to be open next time around,” Lyons said.

“That hurts you. It’s bad for fundraising, it’s bad for friend raising, it’s bad in terms of your own enrollment and retention if every semester there is this same question.”

Lyons said cuts have been made over the years to help the rising cost of running a college, but those have not been enough.

“The board of regents, working with the college administration, cut back on staff and cut back on activities,” he said. “They reduced salaries at one point trying their darnedest to keep the school going, but at some point, you have to make a decision in terms of what is best for your students going forward.”

One of those cuts was the school’s football program in 2015.

The decision to close will be based on whether or not one of the potential investors buys into what the college offers.

“I’m optimistic. I’m hopeful, but when you’re asking people for millions of dollars, and I don’t want to get specific because there are conversations going on now, but when you’re asking for that kind of money, it’s a challenge an investor has to look at very long and hard,” Lyons said.

Lyons said some of the seven potential investors are already out of the equation, but he is hopeful one of them works out.

“It’s sad. I feel terrible, and I’ve only been here eight months,” he said. “It’s a terrible feeling to get to a point where you say this dream has been kept alive for a long time, but we can’t keep it alive going forward.”

Lyons attributed the school’s tough financial situation to offering low tuition and rising operation costs. He said the school offers one of the lowest tuition costs in the state of Alabama.

“Our tuition may be the lowest in the state, but that grew out of the dream of Dr. Rosa Young to provide affordable education to Alabama’s poorest residents, and it was a very loft goal and an important dream,” Lyons said. “The problem is that over time your expenses grow quite high and quite rapidly, but because our students cannot pay more than they are being charged right now, the college cannot increase its cost.”

According to College Tuition Compare’s website, CCA’s tuition in 2017 was $10,302 for both in-state and out-of-state students. The site lists tuition at The University of Alabama for in-state students at $10,470. Auburn University’s was $10,696. These costs do not include living costs and the cost of books and supplies.

Lyons said the decision to close the college or remain open will be made before the end of the semester, and the college will not continue to seek investors after making that decision.

“We just can’t keep continuing, continuing, continuing. You can’t keep going indefinitely,” he said.

“We have to help the students and the staff. You want to help students transfer to other institutions. You want to be able to write reference letters for your employees who’d be looking at other options, so we can’t go right down until it’s time to close the doors and then start that process.”