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Baltimore International to be taken over by Virginia-based Stratford

Baltimore International College’s hospitality and culinary arts programs will soon be taken over by Virginia-based Stratford University, officials announced Monday, in a deal struck following the loss of Baltimore International’s accreditation that would have threatened the 39-year-old school’s existence.

BIC President Edgar B. Schick said he’s confident the agreement, which is effective Jan. 1, will prove beneficial for the college and anticipates the transition will be relatively seamless for students and faculty, citing similarities between the schools’ curricula and their shared focus on long-term career preparedness.

“What they’re really promising to do at this time is simply to continue what we’re doing, but under their management — just to take over and do what we’ve done,” Schick said.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education decided to revoke BIC’s accreditation based on a 2007 review that found the institution was underperforming in several key areas. Students would no longer be eligible to receive financial aid if the school wasn’t accredited, and unless the school merged or successfully appealed the decision, the accreditation would have expired Aug. 31.

BIC students received an average of $11,997 in financial aid during the 2008-2009 school year, the most recent information available, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

The announcement, therefore, represents a sigh of relief for the BIC community, but the school still must appeal to Middle States to allow its accreditation to last through the end of fall semester so that students who have almost completed their degree can earn their last credits, Schick said.

“As far as we know, we have not heard yet from Middle States, but if they do not agree to our request to continue our accreditation through December 31, there is an appeal process, and we will do that,” Schick said. “As long as we are appealing, our accreditation continues, and I am confident that this college will remain accredited for the fall semester.”

Charles Nabit, chairman of BIC’s Board of Trustees, called the new affiliation agreement “an enormously positive development” for the future of the school and for the continued prosperity of Baltimore’s restaurant and hotel industries.

Though Stratford will not assume ownership of BIC’s approximately $20 million in real estate assets, it will most likely continue conducting academic and administrative operations in the two main facilities — the Commerce Exchange building about two blocks from the Inner Harbor and the Culinary Arts Center in Little Italy. Nabit said Baltimore will essentially become a satellite campus of Stratford, in addition to its three locations in Virginia and one in New Delhi, India. That’s good news for students who won’t have to relocate, and for the city, Nabit said.

“If you go into virtually any hotel or restaurant in Baltimore today, there are BIC students that populate every aspect of both culinary and hospitality industries in Greater Baltimore and beyond,” he said. “And I fully anticipate that we will continue to meet that very real demand.”

The school will likely sell its other properties, including the Mount Vernon Hotel, Hopkins Inn and Bay Atlantic Club, to help pay off its debt — which is primarily its mortgage — if Stratford officials decide they don’t need those facilities, Nabit said. Stratford hasn’t yet indicated if it will continue operations at BIC’s Ireland campus after students who are now studying there return in November, Schick said.

BIC’s existing faculty and staff members will be given “good faith” interviews with Stratford officials for the opportunity to continue working with the program. Although BIC officials said they expect most will be retained, all employment decisions — including how many faculty members to rehire and how much compensation they will receive — will be up to Stratford officials, Nabit said.

In addition to once again being eligible to receive federal money, officials said students may have lower tuition bills once Stratford takes over. Schick said the deal caps the maximum tuition increase for the first year at 2 percent, but added he expects students will end up paying even less than they do now. Hospitality management students pay $30,621 for tuition, room and board and fees, while those seeking associate degrees dole out $37,915.

Nabit would not release other financial aspects of the deal.

Stratford University President Richard R. Shurtz did not respond to a request for comment.

Although several for-profit educational institutions have recently come under fire for exaggerating their job placement rates to attract more students, there have not been indications that Stratford, though not a nonprofit school like BIC, has engaged in such practices. Schick said there is no reason to believe Stratford’s for-profit structure would detract from its quality of education.

“It’s kind of hard to keep track of the jobs people have and where they go, but [career training schools] should do a better job,” he said. “I know that Stratford has a much better career guidance and placement service than [Baltimore International does] and I think that will be one of the real improvements in terms of the value for our students.”