HANNIBAL (HLGU) – In the three weeks since Hannibal-LaGrange University’s (HLGU) financial crisis was first reported, the university’s leadership team has responded with transparency, faith and action.
Prior to the declaration of fiscal exigency, the university was spending nearly $500,000 per month more than revenue. In mid-March, the school had accumulated $690,000 in unpaid invoices, a number that was growing daily. Additionally, CFO-Colleague, a firm that was helping the board of trustees comprehend the full nature of the financial crisis was projecting that the million-dollar line of credit the university was drawing upon would be overdrawn by $3,391,000 by the end of July.
A Higher Education consultant shared with HLGU’s executive committee, “If Hannibal LaGrange University exists a year from now, there will be no other explanation than God accomplishing a miracle.” At the time, the consultant, Rodney Harrison, had no idea God’s next assignment would be to serve as the volunteer president of HLGU concurrent with his service to Baptist Homes & Healthcare.
On March 9, university leadership met with faculty, staff and students to bring the fiscal situation into the light and to call upon God through prayer. The following day the university hosted Claude King, co-author of Experiencing God, for a day of prayer, fasting and solemn assembly. By now everyone knew the university was facing a God-sized task.
Although the crisis is far from over, signs of hope emerge daily. The university implemented the Integrity Plan on March 18 to prioritize paying past due bills. Under this plan, all unrestricted gifts are used to pay off the university’s unpaid balances. Half of these funds are used to pay every vendor, and the other half is used to pay the smallest balances first. This approach, which is similar to that taught by Financial Peace University, was put into place to restore integrity the university’s vendors, suppliers, and service providers.
The week prior to bringing the financial need into the light, giving was $2,458. In the next two weeks, HLGU saw gifts increase to $88,795 and $91,366 respectively. According to Dr. Robert Matz, Executive Vice President, Academic Dean, “Figuring out how to cut expenses by $1.2 million dollars while raising $2.2 million seemed like an impossible task. However, God’s people are saying ‘We believe in this University’ and their words are enjoined by generous support.”
Spending for the remainder of the academic year is being brought into line with the budgeted revenue through payroll deductions and austerity measures. Although steep cuts have been made, the university is seeking to ensure students experience a quality, safe learning environment while maintaining the appropriate programs and amenities to allow for a start strong in the fall.
What is next? The university still needs to raise nearly a million before the end the academic year, even after the massive cuts. On the bright side, a robust budget based on scalability and revised curriculum that preserves majors while reducing instructional costs are in place for the fall. A revamped nursing program, along with new partners to support the program are being readied for August. More flexible degrees and class offerings are in place, as are more online programs.
Harrison also discussed the implications of fiscal exigency as it relates to accreditation.
“The Higher Learning Commission is a valued partner in our work,” he said. “One of the Commission’s responsibilities is to ensure the university complies the Criterion of Accreditation, which includes financial integrity. In this area our past performance shows we have fallen short. In 2020 the university was placed on financial monitoring. Unfortunately, COVID and other unforeseen issues hindered progress. In the next month or so, HLGU will be hosting a visiting team from the Commission. It is highly possible that additional monitoring or sanctions will be forthcoming to ensure the university addresses the criterion concerns. These steps are serious, but not unexpected.”
Harrison believes the Midwest needs more Christian universities, not less.
“We must learn from the demise of once great Christian universities such as Judson College and Ohio Valley University,” he said. “Biblical fidelity without financial integrity is unsustainable. Hannibal-LaGrange University is unapologetically Christian and unashamedly Baptist. The goal now is to be unquestionably faithful as stewards of God’s resources.”