TULSA, OK -- Oral Roberts University, which was once tens of millions of dollars in the red after a financial scandal tarnished the Tulsa evangelical school, is finally debt-free, school officials announced on Wednesday.
"We are extremely thankful to all the donors who stepped up to support ORU. They know the value of this university and they can see the product that ORU produces - excellent, whole-person graduates who are valuable to this community and to the world," said Mart Green, Board Chair of the ORU Board of Trustees.
"ORU's long-term debt was a major dragon to slay for future success. We can now move forward with confidence and continue to make this university the best it can be."
Green -- heir to the Hobby Lobby craft supply store fortune -- helped rescue the school two years ago with a $70 million donation. He made the announcement that the school is debt free during a student chapel service on campus.
"I want to thank all of the generous donors who have brought us to where we are today. I want to thank each one of them for believing in this university enough to financially support this great institution. And we are extremely grateful to Mart Green and the Board of Trustees for their leadership and financial support. They have a desire to see this university fulfill its vision and have backed that up with their generous gifts," said Dr. Mark Rutland, ORU president.
10/25/2007 ORU Millions Of Dollars In Debt
The school, known for its 60-foot-high bronze sculpture of praying hands at the entrance to campus, has slowly emerged from a financial scandal two years ago that damaged its reputation and led to the resignation of Oral Roberts' son, Richard, as president.
At the time, ORU said it was facing $55 million in debt after Richard Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, were accused of spending university money on vacations, home remodels and other luxuries -- allegations they denied. Morale among students and faculty also hit rock-bottom.
Richard Roberts stepped down in November 2007, and Green took the reins after rescuing it with his donation. Green named Mark Rutland as president earlier this year, and charged him with restoring the school's image.
Since then, the university cut its debt from $55 million in 2007 to around $720,000 this past summer, thanks to Green's money and a matching gift campaign that hauled in more than $22 million.
ORU courted disgruntled alumni -- of which only 6 percent had donated to the school two years ago -- and won over new donors. Donations spiked from $763,000 in 2007 to $2.3 million this year, the school reported this summer.
Rutland said this summer he was planning a celebration when the school was finally in the black.
"Frankly, I could (pay it off) today," Rutland told the AP in a June interview. "But that's like making a hole in one with nobody on the golf course.
"So, we're going to wait until school starts ... and then we'll have a 'ta-dah' moment."
Wednesday's announcement comes two days before Rutland was set to be officially inaugurated as ORU's third president -- a ceremony that 91-year-old school founder is expected to attend.
Progress has also been made in reversing stagnant enrollment that had plagued ORU for years.
Last month, the university reported a slight increase in student enrollment for the fall semester, with total undergraduate and graduate enrollment at 3,140. The figure was 73 more students than the enrollment for the fall 2008 semester.
The school also reported that new student enrollment increased by more than 17 percent, from 766 in 2008 to 902 this fall.