A deadline is quickly approaching for a historically black women's college in Greensboro to secure its future.
Last December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges said that Bennett College would lose its accreditation after two years on probation due to a lack of financial resources. The private school, founded in 1873 is one of two remaining historically black colleges for women and enrolls 534 full and part-time students.
After the news, the college kicked off a massive fundraising effort called "Stand with Bennett" to support an appeal of the decision. WFDD's Bethany Chafin spoke with Bennett College President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins who says the school has raised nearly 30 percent of its goal.
On where the school is in its fundraising effort:
At the grass roots level, the fundraising is going well. We get daily donations, 100 to 200 donations per day. Prior to that, we were probably getting five donations per week. And so it's amazing the outpouring of support from the community. Those donations range from one dollar up to $100,000, and so we're just pleased with the outpouring of support.
On what happens if the goal is not met:
We will raise the money. We are going to raise the money. So what we've been talking about is this social media campaign. But we've also reached out to organizations, foundations, corporations, and so we are in the process of negotiating and writing grants, requesting funding from those sources. We are also liquidating some of our assets, and we're also seeking loan forgiveness for some of our debt.
On the appeals meeting in February:
The only thing that we can add to support and strengthen that appeal is $5 million in cash. They will let us know within seven days their decision, and if it's successful then we move forward and operate as normal. If it's not successful, we will enter into a lawsuit. We're seeking two accreditations. So at the same time we'll continue to pursue accreditation known as TRACS [Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools]. ... [There will be] no lapse in accreditation.
On what financial stability for Bennett College looks like moving forward and how it will be proven:
Hopefully we will raise more than our minimum of $5 million needed and that we have enough funds also to sustain us in the future. But we are also increasing enrollment and that helps a lot. That's our key to stability, continuous enrollment growth and retaining students. Last year we had a 15 percent increase in enrollment. We had a 9 percent increase in retention. The other key to financial stability is to grow our endowment. And in addition to that, the board of trustees at Bennett College have put together a group called Reengineering Bennett College, and so that group is charged to help us reenvision how the institution will operate. And furthermore, last year we approved a new strategic plan. It's called Bennett College Innovate 2022 to help us envision the institution for the next five years, focusing on new programs according to market demand, technology, and innovation. So we do have a future in mind for Bennett.
On the challenges facing schools the size of Bennett:
I think all small private colleges don't have the benefit of additional resources as you see in your public institutions. We are tuition-driven institutions, and what hits us is that some of our students, according to the student population we serve, many of those students don't have that ability to pay that gap money between the cost to attend and the amount of federal financial aid awarded according to their family income. So our goal is to raise the money to help close that gap. So it's always a fundraising challenge...not only at Bennett College but in all HBCUs and in a lot of private undergraduate institutions.