After more than a decade of decline and alleged financial mismanagement Wilberforce University, the country’s oldest private historically black university is in line to be the next institution to lose its accreditation.

Charlie Tyson of Inside Higher Ed files this report:

In 1865, on the night Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Wilberforce University burned to the ground. Historians don’t know what caused the fire, whether accident or arson. (Given that the black-owned university takes its name from a famous abolitionist, the latter seems more likely).

The Ohio university – the oldest private historically black institution in the country — survived. It erected a new building: this time, brick. It was the first African-American university to have a military training program. And over the course of its history, the university attracted leading black intellectuals, such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Richard R. Wright, to its faculty.

Now, 158 years after its founding, Wilberforce again faces an existential threat. After more than a decade of financial hemorrhage and plummeting enrollment, the university risks losing its accreditation.

Despite (or, depending on who you ask, because of) the efforts of an array of actors – a charismatic preacher; a long-frustrated economics professor; a former lawyer for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies; a board of trustees with more ties to the African Methodist Episcopal church than to higher education – Wilberforce has until December to prove to the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association that it deserves to remain accredited.

To keep its accreditation, Wilberforce must address its ballooning debts, deteriorating buildings and leadership shortcomings, as well as other problems detailed in the commission’s show-cause order, issued mid-June and made public last week in a letter to Wilberforce’s interim president, Wilma Mishoe.

“Whereas a sanction says there’s danger that the institution is out of compliance, a show-cause order is expressing serious doubt that an institution is meeting the standards,” said John Hausaman, the Higher Learning Commission’s public information officer. “It’s asking them to show us why we shouldn’t withdraw accreditation.”

Losing accreditation would almost certainly prove fatal to the institution. Without accreditation, Wilberforce students would not be able to get federal grants or loans. The university gets the majority of its revenues from government grants (in 2011, government grants accounted for $3.1 million of its total revenue of $14.5 million, according to its tax returns) and tuition, fees and auxiliary revenue ($9.3 million in 2011). Federal money accounts for much of the university’s tuition revenue. Eighty-seven percent of Wilberforce students received Pell Grants in 2012, and 100 percent of students took out federal loans, according to the most recent data from the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank.