Bennett Loses SACSCOC Accreditation Appeal

More than 70 percent of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). As of this afternoon and pending a possible lawsuit, Bennett College for Women is no longer one of them.

This is a difficult blow for the HBCU community, and not for the obvious reasons like losing a second campus in two years and being at the forefront of other closures which will be coming in the next few years. It is because for more than a decade, we have seen this coming and pretended as if a combination of willpower and faith without good works would be enough to save our most vulnerable schools.

Bennett has many paths from which it can choose to survive as an accredited four-year campus. It can sue SACSCOC in order to maintain its accreditation through legal action. It can apply for accreditation through another organization, or it can merge with another institution.

These are paths that could and should have been taken years ago. All of us who have long been paying attention to the dramatic shifts and swings in higher education as an industry knew that after spending the better part of a decade on SACSCOC warning or probation for financial instability, Bennett’s survival would ultimately be tested and eventually succumb to the harsh reality of the changes.

But seemingly, most of the families who care deeply for Bennett were not aware of her great struggle, mostly because campus leaders never fully disclosed the great scope of danger to the public.  

Millions secured over the course of a month were not enough to save Bennett in the eyes of SACSCOC – a reflection of the same judgment passed down over the years by students who chose other campuses for enrollment, donors who chose other charities for giving, and Bennett campus leaders who made choices beyond cutting budgets to meet enrollment challenges.

Bennett is not and has not been able to survive under the power of its own mission; that is, as a four-year campus dedicated to the education of black women. Bennett’s ranks of gloriously dedicated and accomplished alumnae simply do not have the wealth or the network to pull the college from the depth of its own debts and obligations. The city of Greensboro does not have a financial stake in the college surviving, as much as it has in being a college town with thriving campuses and growing industries around them.

In the weeks where it appeared national goodwill would empower Bennett to do the impossible, that goodwill built against the tragic irony that the one thing which gave this historic and important institution a fighting chance at life was the threat of imminent death. It was the only time that the public had any inclination that Bennett could very well cease to exist.

This secret and silent suffering is what is killing our HBCUs. The unwillingness of leaders to be honest about enrollment and finance, the lack of instinct from most boards of trustees and the severe unawareness of students and alumni leaves many of our schools to live and die based upon the work of a few people with all of the information, who inevitably turn to the community when their ideas and luck inevitably run out.

SACSCOC and its decision to expel Bennett from membership is not a cruel death blow to an undeserving school. This is the most severe symptom of the kind of struggle that with or without accreditation could lead Bennett and HBCUs like it to suddenly close their doors, and to displace employees and students who would have no alternative for their lives and careers.

Bennett as an institution and an idea deserves to live, but it also deserved our best efforts in preserving both. Our leaders failed to inform us, and we as stakeholders failed to demand the information.

Several HBCUs throughout the country will face a similar fate in short order. If we wish to save them, it is time to stop waiting on leaders to do what is best and to demand that we see what the plan for the best looks like; along with details about finances and leadership decisions.  

A national campaign wasn’t enough to save Bennett. And because of that, heaven help every other school which will have to raise even more money from a goodwill-weary public which will wonder if it is still worth even trying to save these black colleges if their leaders can’t be trusted to tell us that they need to be saved.  

  1. Bennett definitely should sue. They raised more than the money required to sure up there finances. This is completely a racist tactic to eliminate one of the nations HBCUs. Where is Betsy DeVoes now.

  2. They-along with other smaller private HBCUs-should apply for accreditation through TRACS, and leave SACS completely. The only thing people care about is whether or not you are accredited, not who the body is.

  3. Well written! The issue is not about raising money, but the issues regarding the mismanagement of finances, the lack of truthfulness and transparency in leadership, lack of Board leadership and integrity in all matters regarding the standards supporting the mission and purpose. SACSCOC is doing its job to protect students. Bennett is only one of many. The recycling of bad President’s from one institution to the next doesn’t help.

    1. I totally agree! It’s not just the small private but also the public institutions that have this problem! This article says what I as a double HBCU graduate have been saying for years. If we don’t fundamentally change the way we do business and communicate and support our schools, Bennett won’t and isn’t the only one.

  4. This is disheartening, frightening, and sadly not only are HBCUs at-risk. How many successive years of declining enrollments can any of the sever-hundred small, private college endure once the public institutions become (so-called) free? Very few indeed.

  5. Very insightful article. I was not aware of some aspects of the story. I believe HBCU,” are in important and integral part of a college experience for those Black students to have an experience with reflections of their heritage. Even if you pick up an advanced degree from a mainstream college, that experience at an HBCU is a valuable asset to your perdpers and professional career.

  6. Just my opinion but it seems Bennett began to suffer when they uncermoniously fired Julieanne Malvoux…..the interm president had no clue and the one who followed didn’t either. It appears the current president is equipped and should be given a chance. MUST leave the SACSCOC.

  7. The article is about sharing information about the numbers required to keep a private HBCU afloat. Each school has two strategic plans. One for the public and one that is kept close-hold.

    This is a simple math problem that doesn’t require a doctoral education. How much does it cost to run the school with the optimum number of students? Are there enough alumni to meet any financial shortfall? If the answer is no to the idea that the alumni can meet the shortfall, then the traditional funding structure has to change if you want different results.

    The change is simple but politically difficult…private HBCUs must convert to PUBLIC institutions. Trade the privately funded school history for a publicly funded school future.

  8. Thank you Anonymous. The school presidents are not bad but they already know the answer before they take the job. So they come in as interim, accept a 3-5 year contract, recycle ideas they have used previously, cite that the alumni giving is inadequate, and depart without making the politically difficult decision to become publicly funded because the alumni would revolt.

  9. However factual or not, President’s do not make the decision to change the status of a school — private or public. Boards of Trustees do — and one would hope, they would not make those types of decisions in a vacuum. ALL stakeholders would need to be involved for such a transition to take place (if possible at all without having to dissolve and start over). The board is the governing and fiduciary body that hires, fires, condones, supports, evaluates, and directs Presidents. At private institutions, the Board has one employee: the President. Everyone who works at a private college/university works for the President (in order to help him/her carry out the charges given by the Board). Sadly, many Boards become political entities comprised of egos and people without the skills needed to govern and support an institution of higher learning. For some, it’s a resume filler or a way to network. Others truly want to support and improve their institutions. When the warning signs are there, we (stakeholders: alumni, friends, community and business partners, students, parents, etc.) cannot ignore the signs and “pray” them away. Swift and consistent action and support along with integrity and transparency from the institution must take place. This is sad news and I hope that Bennett finds a way to not only survive but thrive. This nation and the world need these venerable institutions! Long live HBCUs!!!

  10. Bennett College like many HBCUs suffers from low enrollment due to: rising higher education costs and aggressive competition for a target demographic (first generation college students) who are not wealthy, minimal/low alumni support and giving, non-existent endowments and limited partnerships with entities able and willing to support them. Percentage wise, our generation (Baby Boomers and below) do not/did not support our institutions like our ancestors who had far fewer resources than we do now.
    Of course racism and class dynamics are key factors. The post racial canard, the bogus notion HBCUs are no longer necessary are widely propagated and believed. PWIs offer stiff competition to HBCUs for reasons that transcend cost. Many of us have lost confidence in our own institutions! HBCUs face an existential crisis. The reality is, we are the only ones who can save them. If we fail to rise to the challenge, more and more HBCUs will die.!

  11. I fully concur. HBCUs are dying because of a lack of leaders with a backbone. In the successful days of HBCUs, presidents were nurtured in the classroom and brought up through the ranks of department chair, division chair and president’s cabinet.

    Today, president’s come to institutions they know nothing about (historically or academically) bringing their team of cronies and begin firing individuals who have served that institution in the good and bad times. They are insecure, self-centered, ignorant, immature jackasses cloned from president-select consulting agencies being shifted from one HBCU to another. These cowards leave the HBCU with a lot of money from their bloated salaries, accreditation fears, debt, lost jobs and lost history in their wake.

  12. Small, private HBCU’s may need to become national public institutions and treated as “endangered species” under supervision of US Department of Education. They would become nationalized like national parks and funded accordingly, like land-grant colleges got started, but later became public institutions under the states.

  13. wow, TY, The majority of these board members are not tied to the Product, Educated Black men & women , they are wed to , the flow of revenus ,

  14. I am writing my comments based upon my experiences with HBCUs. I was in management at two major corporations and am now retired. I live and worked in a state that did not have an HBCU. Working in the research & development world with engineers and other professionals gave me an opportunity to witness where our minority employees had received their education, subsequently I became an HBCU advocate.

    Diverse Issues in Higher Education using the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education has created rankings in the total number of Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees awarded to minority students at every public American institution of higher education, as well as specific figures in major fields of study and disciplines. In 2018 it was the 27th consecutive year that Diverse (formerly Black Issues In Higher Education) has produced this original research.

    HBCUs represent 3% of America’s colleges and universities. When you look at the top 50 producers in major fields of study and disciplines it is very apparent HBCUs Do Matter. When I look at the top six producers of Black engineers, five are HBCUs. Very little has changed in the last 25 years. If it were not for HBCUs there would be very few minorities in the field of engineering and other professions. Sharing this information became a ministry for me and a career in my retirement years.

    Thirteen years ago I helped my local school district develop a Pre Collegiate Initiative that focused on HBCUs. Black students were the majority in the district and they needed to address college and career readiness. Today the high school is the #1 urban high school in the state for college and high school graduation rates. If you visit you will see HBCU Recruiters standing in front of the school’s HBCU……Our National Treasures Collegiate Wall in hallway “D” of the high school. The wall has monitors at each end were we showcase our graduates, were they work, what they majored in and what HBCU they attended. Our students are LSAMP, Gates, DNIMAS, Dowdy, UNCF, Coca-Cola, Thurgood Marshall, Simon Research, NROTC, Allison Transmission scholars. Finding external funds such as scholarships is part of our process. Our students have attended over 50 HBCUs and are now: nurses, lawyers, doctors, pharmacist, teachers, computer scientist, research scientists, chemist, architects, cyber security for CIA & major corporations, engineers, social workers, musicians etc.

    This is what I know, there is a movement in this country that is trying to destroy our historically black colleges and universities!!! It began when Barack Obama was selected, not elected, to run for the office of President. Many feel this must never happen again. It was disturbing when the 19 Black women became judges in Texas and most elected Black males where HBCU graduates. Subsequently, HBCUs have encountered significant funding disparities in comparison to predominantly White institutions (PWIs). In some states legislators are seeking to pass laws that could force several institutions to close. At the high school level our students are being encouraged to check out certifications, trades, etc. Our public school dollars are being divided with private and charter schools. The movement is on and folks we are at a crossroad.

    “Alumni, administrators, advocates, faculty and students we must come together and work to counter attempts to erase HBCUs mission to educate Black students. The fight is ongoing, we have to close the HBCU, PWI funding gap. This will only occur when the HBCU community holds policymakers accountable while financially contributing to university programs through fundraisers and other sponsored events”, this statement is from Dr. Larry Walker an educational consultant focused on supporting HBCUs.

    Dr. Ruth W. Woods

  15. This is sadly becoming our legacy. I am a proud a graduate of an unaccredited HBCU. And I’ve wondered about this very issue, of how these board members and Administrators are able keep policies that clearly decades. I’ve also wondered where is the alumni? These institutions have existed since the early 19th century and of all those graduates no one get on these boards (the board hires the president). Not talking about money….I’m talking about time, professional skills and educational knowledge you gained. The retired and mature professional, the professionals that live close and are looking to volunteer time for monthly board meetings meeting. You know the ones that send their children to Brown, Harvard, Yale you know the ones that wouldn’t take you in the 60’s and 70’s. But will now take your money…IJW

  16. I totally agree with your comments. Yet, I wonder when institutions are seeking new leadership to lead their institutions along w/the search committees and University curators. Why aren’t plans put into action upfront for fundraising and recruitment? Alums need to invest in their Alma Maters and not just show up for Homecoming.

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