In a Wednesday e-mail to the Southwest School of Art community, President Paula Owen wrote the school will likely not receive accreditation until 2020.

The announcement comes just weeks before the first class of 11 students is set to graduate with Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. Earlier this week, the school sent out a press release asking for media coverage of the April 29 graduation ceremony.

It was unclear exactly what Owen’s announcement meant for the students, although it appears they will graduate from an unaccredited institution. Owen did not immediately respond to requests for comment via e-mail, text, or phone call.

In the email, dated April 4, Owen announced that this past week she, Dean Edward Dupuy, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Kevin Conlon, decided to suspend the school’s accreditation process “at this time” with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Owen wrote that the Southwest School of Art would instead pursue accreditation through the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, although that process would likely not be resolved until 2020.

She wrote in the memo that the school made the decision due to SACSCOC’s stringent financial requirements.

“One of the requirements of SACSCOC is that an institution does not show a deficit in the three fiscal years prior to accreditation,” she wrote, noting that in fiscal year 2017, the school showed a deficit, disqualifying it from accreditation.

Owen described this discovery as a “blow, to be sure,” but said the consultant the school hired to help with finances noted that Southwest School of Art is “financially sound.” She said NASAD’s requirements are “not as stringent,” and the school is already in touch and working on the new application for accreditation.

“We will begin the official process with NASAD as soon as possible with an expected decision from them in fall of 2020,” she wrote. “Moreover, in working on the narrative of the application, it became apparent to all of us that much of what’s been accomplished in just a few years is nothing short of amazing. The process has also helped us mature as an institution and has shed valuable light on SSA and its quality. For that, we can all be proud.”

The school, founded in 1965, first began offering the BFA program in fall 2013. In her letter to the community, Owen noted the school still maintains the authority to grant degrees in Texas.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has granted a Certificate of Authority to the Southwest School of Art to award the BFA. The certificate doesn’t denote accreditation, but only signifies the Southwest School of Art has met the coordinating board’s standards established for nonexempt institutions, according to the school’s website.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.