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Small Utah college with big political ties is going under

First Published      Last Updated Oct 23 2015 12:06 pm

Wythe University » Conservative school burdened by money woes is working with state on structured shutdown.
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The financial problems soon caught the attention of Consumer Protection, including a host of questionable loans Brooks signed off on without board approval. The division required the university to sever all ties to Brooks to maintain its registration.

The university's next president, Shane Schulthies, a former Brigham Young University professor of physical education, suggested it was time to close the school. While the board rejected an immediate shutdown, Earley said the wind down began in 2011. But Blaylock, the division investigator, noted the school accepted new students as recently as 2013, after it had shuttered its Cedar City office and moved to Salt Lake City, taking space in an office complex on South Temple.

The division has levied fines due to problems with registration and charitable contributions through the years, including two board members who didn't make themselves available for a personal credit check as required. The board said that was a simple oversight, quickly corrected. The division collected little of the fines for fear it could trigger the school's collapse. In 2014, the division agreed to accept $1,000 of a $20,000 fine and then last month, the division signed off on a new agreement giving the university one more year before it had to close.

Administrators have regularly met with Consumer Protection to work on the tiered "teach out." The graduate programs were closed first and then the undergraduate program stopped accepting students.

Last class • The university, which has no president, now has 30 students enrolled, with undergraduates paying an average $4,600 for tuition and books each semester.

They meet in a mock business boardroom with leather chairs around a dark wood table. At its head is a TV wired for online courses. Prints of famous paintings of George Washington and other Founding Fathers line the walls. There's also a bust of Cicero, the famous Roman philosopher, a painting of Mother Teresa and large replicas of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Here the remaining George Wythe students take courses in everything from government to biology, trying to wrap up their statesmanship degrees before the school goes dark.

In recent years, George Wythe students have held a mock legislature, the most recent took place in May in the Capitol. State Sen. Dan Thatcher, R-West Valley City, arranged for 26 students and four mentors to take over the Senate floor. They spent the day debating bills the real Utah Legislature rejected or found controversial.

"What I saw were engaged and enthusiastic students who were doing more than surface discussion of the news. They were actually trying to understand policy," said Thatcher, who had no inkling that the school would soon be no more.

At the end of the day, Gov. Gary Herbert addressed the students. It was not the first time. He has occasionally has attended George Wythe events in past years, saying he likes the school's emphasis on the Constitution.

"I liked what they were doing, what they stood for," Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune. "I'm disappointed in the fact that they aren't finding success in the marketplace. ... But the marketplace should determine winners and losers."

George Wythe administrators, no fans of big government, believe the state should play a role in saving future unaccredited schools.

They are proposing legislation that would make it a felony to give out a fraudulent degree. It is now a misdemeanor. They would also require an unaccredited school to keep an off-site secure copy of a transcript to avoid tampering and make sure that at least three other schools would accept transfer credits.

"We don't want anyone else to have to go through what we have gone through," Earley said. "It is never fun cleaning up someone else's messes."


Twitter: @mattcanham

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