Local & State
|Battle for the Belles|
|Bennett College's last-gasp drive for accreditation|
|Published Wednesday, January 30, 2019 1:22 pm|
|PHOTO | SHAAKIRA M. JONES|
|Bennett College graduates celebrate at 2018 commencement in Greensboro. The historically black women's school has raised $3.1 million in the $5 million #StandWithBennett initiative to maintain accreditation.|
Phyllis Worthy Dawkins has one mission: Save Bennett College.
The all-women historically black college in Greensboro faces a Feb. 1 deadline to raise $5 million to maintain accreditation with Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the regional commission that measures colleges’ operational and academic fitness. Dawkins, a 1975 Johnson C. Smith University graduate who became Bennett’s president in 2017, is bullish on the school’s future, noting recent gifts that topped $3.1 million as of Tuesday and gradually rebounding enrollment.
“We’re on the pathway to addressing a successful fundraising and we’re on the path to continuing to increase enrollment and retention of our students,” she said. “We’re still open for business. We had 3,000 students apply to Bennett for the fall and we’re encouraging many of those students to choose Bennett.”
SACS voted to revoke Bennett’s accreditation in December after two years on probation because of concerns the 470-student campus – up 16 percent since Dawkins arrived – didn’t have sufficient finances for day-to-day operations.
“We were shocked because we had a very good year in 2017-2018 based on our audit findings,” she said. “Our enrollment is up, fundraising is up, we finished last year with a [financial] surplus. We had a good year overall. The metrics were headed in the right direction.”
In response, Bennett, one of two historically black schools for women, launched an aggressive #StandWithBennett campaign to raise awareness and money ahead of an appeal session in Atlanta next month. Reaching the $5 million goal will satisfy the accreditor’s cash-on-hand demand.
“Bennett College has a unique history, and it is a history that must be preserved,” former Bennett president Julianne Malveaux wrote in a December column for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a trade group for African American publications. “It will only be maintained if folks who love women, women’s history, and the elevation of black women’s voices come together to find $5 million in just a few weeks.”
Even after eclipsing a $4 million fundraising target set last year with $4.2 million, Bennett needs the $5 million to bolster its accreditation appeal. The school reported a surplus of $461,000 in the 2017-18 academic year compared to a $1.1 million deficit in 2016-17, helped in part by a $1.1 million reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Education.
Although Bennett is struggling, there’s support.
Although enrollment is far below the 780 students reported in 2010, it’s better than at any time since the Great Recession, and applications are up.
Last week, the Louisville, Kentucky-based Papa John’s Foundation and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem each donated $500,000, the largest gifts since the fundraiser initiative launched. Papa John’s also pledged to develop a long-term relationship with the school.
“Papa John’s has supported educational institutions of all levels for years and we are a proud partner to many colleges across the country. That legacy continues through The Papa John’s Foundation’s support of Bennett College,”
I am a proud graduate and supporter of Bennett class of 1987! Posted on February 1, 2019
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