Bennett College Stands Resilient in the Face of Accreditation Loss

*The Breakdown is The North Star’s daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.

Key Facts: Bennett College, a historically Black (HBCU) private women's college in Greensboro, North Carolina, lost its reaccreditation bid with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on the 18th of February.

This ruling comes after an aggressive two-month fundraising campaign launched by Phyllis Dawkins, the President of the College. Dawkins, in breakneck fashion, raised $10 million dollars--exceeding her $5 million goal. She accomplished this seemingly impossible task by appealing to external and internal stakeholders. She even appealed to Black Talk Radio, including the Rickey Smiley and Tom Joyner talk shows. Corporations such as Papa John’s donated $500,000 and its founder actively solicited matching pledges. High Point University in High Point, NC, a predominantly white institution (PWI), gave $1 million dollars to support Bennett’s campaign. Bennett’s Alumni chapters also solicited small donations nationwide.

Historical Facts: Historically, public and private HBCUs have struggled to compete for students with predominantly white institutions (PWI’s). Some of the challenges include declining enrollment, lack of retention, low graduation rates, ineffective branding, limited curricular offerings, and the inability to attract large corporate donations. Perhaps the best example of this reality was Morris Brown College in Atlanta, which lost its accreditation in 2002 due to fiscal mismanagement. The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) terminated its relationship with the school, and ten years later it filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.

Beneath the Surface: Loss of accreditation is often the death knell for a college. Without accreditation, students are not eligible for financial aid programs sponsored by the U.S Department of Education. This situation is particularly pernicious for HBCUs where the overwhelming majority of students rely on some form of financial aid to complete their education. Schools in this situation face immediate closure and the disruption of the lives of students, faculty, and staff. The closure of educational institutions also leaves the community intellectually impoverished.

Next Steps: Bennett’s leadership has skillfully responded to the challenges it faces. Immediately, the leadership assessed its options. First, Bennett has the right to apply for accreditation with another accrediting body. Second, the university can challenge the accreditation decision in court. This is precisely what Bennett has done. It has filed a lawsuit against the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SASOCOC).

As a result, SASOCOC entered into Consent Order, granting a preliminary injunction. This allows Bennett to remain as a probationary member of SASOCOC--pending an order from the U.S District Court of the Northern District of Georgia. Bennett College remains undaunted, and continues to fight for full reaccreditation.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America. He is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.