More than 100 U.S. colleges, including four local schools, were in such "fragile financial condition" last year that they failed a U.S. Department of Education financial-responsibility test, according to a report yesterday in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Rosemont College, which has been struggling financially for several years and is going coeducational this fall, is among the schools that had a financial score under 1.5 in the department analysis.
Scores were based on three ratios that take into account a variety of factors, including debt load, expenses relative to income, and overall resources, the publication said. Data were for fiscal year 2008 and in some cases 2007.
The department does the analysis annually.
Harcum, a junior college in Bryn Mawr; Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia; and Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville also made the list.
Failing the test can be an indicator that a college is in danger of closing, the Chronicle said, although officials from Harcum, Rosemont, and Lutheran Theological all said yesterday they were on the rebound and not facing that possibility. Valley Forge officials did not return calls for comment.
At the very least, the analysis identifies schools that could be particularly susceptible to collapse in the economic downturn.
The Chronicle obtained the analysis through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Education Department declined yesterday through its deputy press secretary, Justin Hamilton, to make the analysis public or provide anyone to answer questions about it.
Harcum, Lutheran Theological, and Valley Forge had scores low enough to require them to submit a letter of credit to the department to continue receiving federal student aid. They also are subject to extra monitoring.
Rosemont's score was high enough not to have to submit the letter of credit, but it will be monitored more closely.
The small women's college ended last fiscal year with a $1 million deficit in its $20 million budget and as part of a remedy to improve finances decided last spring to go co-ed. It will accept its first group of male students in the fall.
President Sharon Latchaw Hirsh said in a letter to faculty and administrators yesterday that although it was distressing to appear on the department's list, the school's financial picture was improving.
The deficit for fiscal 2009 is projected to be cut in half, to $500,000, she said. Its endowment has increased 17 percent over the last year, to $10.8 million as of April 30, spokeswoman Alexis Kropp said.
"We have begun to make the necessary changes to propel Rosemont into a thriving future," Hirsh said, noting that the college had a new online bachelor's degree program in business and an online M.B.A. program.
Rosemont passed the department's financial test last year but had a similar low rating in 2006.
The college reported last month that as of May 1, 78 students had submitted deposits to be part of Rosemont's freshman 2009 class, down from 96 the same time the year before. The school did not provide updated numbers yesterday.
Harcum president Jon Jay DeTemple said that although he was concerned about the department's rating, he had been upgrading the school's financial practices and replacing personnel as necessary since he arrived two years ago.
"We're certainly not taking it lightly, but we've turned the corner, and we don't expect to be there that long," he said.
He said that when he arrived, he found poor financial records and policies. The school, he said, did not "know things like who owed money."
It cost the school about $700,000 to bring in outside help and make other changes to improve, he said. The college's endowment also fell from about $7 million to $4 million.
Harcum, which focuses on career-oriented programs, including a program in allied health, serves about 750 full-time-equivalent students.
Facing a deficit and a reduction in endowment, Lutheran Theological cut about 15 percent of its staff through attrition and layoffs in January 2008 and is freezing salaries for next year, said Curtis Haynes, vice president of finance and operations. The school serves 460 full-time equivalent students.
"The seminary's primary objective in these times is to maintain as much financial support for students as possible, allowing graduates to go into ministry with as little debt as possible," he said.