Many private colleges and universities faced hard times during the weak economy, but one local institution’s post-recession financial turnaround is no small victory.
The newly and aptly renamed Victory University, formerly Crichton College, rose from the ashes with a new business model and new leadership. Administrators said transition is nothing new to the school.
"When we were going into closing mode, I had to hold a college fair in the gymnasium with 25 schools represented because we couldn’t leave our students hanging," said Dr. Darryl Tukufu, vice president for external affairs and chief diversity officer at the university.
"We lost a lot of students then. But we got students back. We’re still in the 700s."
In fact, Tukufu said that with about 450 students, the school was about to start its largest summer session ever. Fall and spring semesters typically have about 700 students.
On Thursday, June 23, Tukufu and his staff celebrated the hiring of Dr. Shirley Robinson Pippins as president and CEO of the university. Pippins will start Aug. 1, succeeding Dr. John Borek, who was hired in 2009 to lead the school out of financial failure.
The school, originally known as Mid-South Bible Center, was established in 1944 as a three-year Bible school. In 1955, Dr. James B. Crichton, now deceased, was elected to lead the school and added a non-credit adult-education program.
During the 1980s the school established accredited education, psychology and business programs. The school was renamed Crichton College in 1987.
In 2002, the school relocated from southeast Memphis to its current campus at 255 N. Highland St.
But falling short of students’ tuition dollars, in 2009 the school faced closure.
“I stayed through the whole process,” said Angenette Arnold, a junior business management major, who remembers hearing daily rumors that the school was in trouble.
Arnold had already tried classes at Southwest Tennessee Community College and LeMoyne-Owen College, but found the environment more inviting at Crichton College.
“When I first came to a classroom and the teacher actually prayed, I said, ‘Oh, thank you, Lord, I’m at home,’” Arnold said. “The attention is more individualized. You have access to the teachers here.”
Arnold wasn’t the only one who saw something valuable in the school.
Tukufu said that entrepreneur Michael Clifford took an interest in the school in 2009 and through his company, Significant Federation, attracted enough investors to the school to keep it open while it rebuilds. In the process, the school went from a nonprofit institution to a for-profit model.
“He got us on track in a short amount of time,” Tukufu said.
In May 2010, the staff and students voted on a new name for the school, choosing Victory University.
“Victory is a sleeper institution, and when the economy turns around, Memphis is going to be a place that moves forward – and I think the same of Victory,” said Pippins, who added that the school’s first need is marketing to let people in the community know the school is still open for business.
She hopes to continue expanding the school’s graduate programs, including a recently added master of psychology program.
Most of the school’s students attend at night, so Victory will further develop its online programs to attract older, working students.
“To be competitive, most institutions will have online components,” Pippins said. “Taking English on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 to 11 o’clock just doesn’t work anymore.
“I just supported my niece while she went back to school. She’s got two kids and is 40 years old. She finished her degree online, and she wouldn’t have been able to do it if (online) hadn’t been an option.”
Pippins served previously as the senior vice president of programs and services at the American Council on Education. She has also served as president of two community colleges, Suffolk County Community College in New York and Thomas Nelson Community College in Virginia.
Pippins said she had considered retiring to do consulting work after leaving ACE, but she was tempted by the school when the Victory board of directors approached her.
“At this point in my life, I thought, ‘I’ve done so many things, why do more of the same?’”
Pippins said. “This would be different, and I can bring to bear my academic knowledge and spiritual connections to rebuild this institution.”