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Bennett College on the verge of losing accreditation

School will appeal decision at February 2019 hearing

Bennett College, one of only two historically black colleges for women, again is facing loss of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Bennett president Phyllis Worthy Dawkins responded to the announcement this week by saying the school has appealed the decision. The hearing for the appeal has been scheduled for Feb. 18, 2019, with the hope that the decision to revoke Bennett’s accreditation will be reversed. The school remains accredited by SACSCOC until the outcome of the hearing. Currently, the school has 429 students enrolled and will remain open.

While we did not get the news we wanted today from SACSCOC officials, I remain optimistic that Bennett will make the necessary strides to demonstrate we deserve to remain accredited,” Dawkins said Tuesday.

Bennett has an illustrious history that began when it opened its doors in 1873 with a stated mission that it “produces phenomenal women scholars and global leaders.” In 1926, the school in Greensboro, North Carolina, decided to switch from being coeducational to a college for women.

“Bennett is not only my college, it’s my home,” said Delana Welch, a Bennett freshman from Roanoke, Virginia. “Sisterhood at Bennett is what we value. If our school is to be shut down, not only will it affect the history and education, but it will have a huge impact on the bond that I’ve developed with my family.”

The school was first placed on probation in 2016 over concerns about its finances, but it was extended last December. According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), of which Bennett is a member, it has experienced a 10 percent increase in fundraising, improvements in infrastructure, a 2 percent increase in enrollment and grant assistance to aid with accreditation efforts.

“The fact that Bennett College has made significant improvements since being placed on accreditation probation two years ago is a testament to this institution’s willingness and diligence to do everything it can to meet the standards set forth by its accrediting body and to ensure its students receive well-needed federal financial aid,” said UNCF president and CEO Michael Lomax.

The commission has a rule that a school may only be on probation for two years. After the two years, the college either receives full accreditation and no sanctions or it loses membership in the commission.

As a response to the SACSCOC decision, many students began the hashtag #StandWithBennett in an attempt to spread awareness about the situation and preserve a historically black college that is part of the nation’s civil rights legacy.

Bennett had the first black woman in the country to serve as president of an accredited four-year liberal arts college. Willa Player was a pioneer not only for women and education but also for civil rights. During her leadership, Bennett became one of the first historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs) to be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

One of the most significant acts of her social activism was when she organized a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. on Bennett’s campus in 1958. This speech ignited protests in Greensboro that resulted in many Bennett students being arrested, along with students from North Carolina A&T University. During that time, Player visited them and had professors continue teaching and administering exams.

The Morehouse and Bennett relationship began under the president before Player, David Dallas Jones. He started serving as the first president of the newly established women’s college in 1926, and he still holds the record for the longest tenure (29 years). According to the Encyclopedia of African American Education, he established a relationship with Morehouse College president Benjamin E. Mays that is the basis for the relationship between the two colleges.

“The Bennett and Morehouse relationship isn’t as strong as it should be,” said Arius Williams, a Morehouse senior from Richmond, California. “I think we should support our sister school as much as we can right now because we can’t afford to let another HBCU close.”

In an effort to preserve their relationship, Morehouse offers a trip to visit Bennett’s homecoming festivities. Since Bennett does not have a football team, it hosts festivities in the spring, called Ebony Soul, that serve as its homecoming. Morehouse rents a bus, and students travel with associate dean of student life Kevin Booker to Bennett to participate in its homecoming.

“I visited Bennett in spring 2015 on the Ebony Soul trip,” said Morehouse alumnus Harold Terrell of Oakland, California. “I enjoyed my time there, it was a lot of positive energy. During my experience there, they showed love, were positive and intelligent. Also, they’re well diverse in the aspect of their majors and talents.”

Bennett’s choir also travels to Morehouse during the college’s homecoming festivities, and sometimes for the Christmas concert.

According to UNCF vice president of public policy and government affairs Lodriguez Murray, Bennett is ranked in the top three in HBCU alumni giving and made efforts during the probationary period to provide evidence of a sound financial base and financial stability.

The school has received a six-year deferment from the U.S. Department of Education for its HBCU Capital Financing Program loan, and it is committed to reimbursing Bennett $1.185 million.

“It is our hope that the department will issue that refund in the coming days to assist Bennett and show increased financial stability,” said Murray. “It will be disastrous if the state of North Carolina loses this historical institution that has served the community for well over a century.”

Janae Adams is a senior mass media arts major from the Bay Area. She is a staff writer for “The Panther” and is a firm believer that drums are better than flats.

John X. Miller is the senior HBCU editor for Andscape. He's a father, jazz aficionado and die-hard UNC basketball fan.