BIG BUCKS AREN'T ENOUGH
Tom Monaghan's Impending Educational Disaster

September 2004By Andrew Messaros

Andrew Messaros is Professor of Biology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

In late 2002, Ave Maria College in Michigan (AMC) announced it would found the first new Catholic university in the U.S. in over a generation. Hopes were raised for many Catholic families who were reluctant to send their children to secularized Catholic universities, which seemed more interested in questioning the Faith than teaching it. After he promised a quarter billion to found this new university, former Domino's Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan was recognized among the top philanthropists in the U.S. The new university in Naples, Fla., launched a marketing campaign, which promised students "soul support, not peer pressure," and it was a success.

With its future seeming as bright as the Florida sun, Ave Maria University (AMU) opened its Naples interim campus to 101 students last fall. Of these, 80 students had been enrolled at the Michigan institution.

The Michigan College, which was to be phased out, had been promised $25 million to ensure that its new freshmen would be able to graduate in 2007, when the Michigan campus is scheduled to be closed down. However, faculty and staff, who had received multiple assurances the year before that they would be offered jobs in Florida, were now discovering that these job offers would be withdrawn. Students saw this and questioned if the promise to let them graduate in Michigan would really be kept, and if it was kept, would their degree mean anything?

The Michigan institution was on track to receive accreditation from two agencies, but the focus moved from seeking final accreditation for the Michigan institution to seeking a preliminary decision for the Florida institution. In Michigan, staff and faculty felt they were being offered a terrible choice -- to be loyal either to their students and stay in Michigan or to their own careers and move to Florida (though in many cases this offer was withdrawn in mid-summer 2004). As for students, the choice was to either transfer to AMU Florida, an unaccredited institution, or stick with the College and hope it would stay open long enough for them to graduate and not lose its standing with accreditors in the meantime.

But institutional chaos was soon dwarfed by troubles which were much more severe. In late June of this year, the federal Department of Education (DOE) announced sanctions against Ave Maria at both its Florida and Michigan sites. In a letter sent to the College, the DOE announced it was putting Ave Maria on "heightened cash monitoring" for its poor management of financial aid awards to students. The letter said that the College would have to pay back $100,000 to $300,000 of grants and loans because AMC Michigan could not prove that a substantial number of awards from 2000 to 2003 were made to "eligible students."


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