Bennett College, one of the last two historically Black colleges for women in the U.S., is fighting to keep its accreditation after struggling financially for several years.
The private liberal arts school in Greensboro, North Carolina, was notified last month that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges had voted to remove its accreditation due to failure to comply with the commission’s financial standards.
Specifically, the SACSCOC found that Bennett did not meet section 13.1 of its Principles of Accreditation guide, requiring an institution to have “sound financial resources and a demonstrated, stable financial base.”
The commission also said that Bennett, which was founded in 1873 and has been a women’s college since 1926, had “exhausted its two-year period on probation for coming into compliance” with its requirements.
Bennett College announced that it has appealed the commission’s decision. It will therefore remain an accredited institution on probation until a hearing in February, according to the commission’s guidelines. An appeals committee will convene between Feb. 18 and 20.
In an NPR interview published Thursday, college President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins said that if Bennett does not win on appeal, it will file a lawsuit against the SACSCOC.
“At the same time, we will seek other accreditation bodies to see if we can be accredited by them,” she said. “So our goal is to maintain our accreditation, keep Bennett College open for the future, so that we can recruit and retain students.”
In 2003, then-Bennett College President Johnnetta Cole led fundraising efforts that ultimately helped lift a previous probation, the Greensboro News & Record reported.
Dawkins told NPR that Bennett’s enrollment ― which now sits at less than 470 students, about half of what it was a decade ago ― was significantly impacted by the Great Recession and a 2011 tightening of lending criteria for federal loans that parents can take out to help pay for their children’s education. She said the change in underwriting standards greatly affected college enrollment from African-American families, who research shows were disproportionately hit by the Great Recession, too.
The college, its alumnae and its supporters have turned to social media to raise funds for Bennett. Dawkins told NPR that the college is seeking to bring in some $5 million by Feb. 1.
“So far, we’ve raised over a million dollars towards the 5 million,” she said. “So we’re about 29 days out from the February 1 deadline, and so we’re stepping up our efforts in a variety of different ways to raise those funds.”
According to the school’s accreditation FAQ page, it needs to raise $5.7 million by Feb. 1 so that it can “make the case for reinstating Bennett’s accreditation.”
Bennett College reported surpassing a $4 million fundraising goal from 2017 to 2018 and saw an increase in first-year enrollment, according to the Associated Press. The college also said its financial audit for that year came back clean, per AP.
“I think we’ve done well,” Dawkins said last month. “Apparently we need to do a little bit more.”
Actor Jussie Smollett has joined religious leaders, students and public figures in helping to bring attention to Bennett’s fundraising efforts, using the hashtag #standwithbennett.