A Private Liberal Arts College Is Drowning in Debt. Should Alabama Rescue It?

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On a crisp fall day at Birmingham-Southern College, the students were making their way to class, stealing a few cold minutes under the golden ginkgo trees. Inside the red brick buildings that dot the 192-acre campus, professors were preparing exams for finals week, while administrators readied the first round of acceptance letters for the next school year.

Yet looming over those quintessential scenes of college life was an unsettling question: Would the school even make it to another fall semester?

The private liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., has been plagued by financial instability for years, with the 2009 recession and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the consequences of overly ambitious investments and hulking debts.

Closure seemed imminent earlier this year, until Alabama lawmakers appeared to offer a lifeline: a law tailored toward saving the 167-year-old school with a program that could loan millions of dollars. But in October, the state treasurer denied the school’s loan application, sending administrators scrambling once again to save the school.

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A Private Liberal Arts College Is Drowning in Debt. Should Alabama Rescue It?

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