Things don’t look good for Bennett College, Greensboro’s 145-year-old private HBCU. On Tuesday, governing bodies announced that, in its second year of probation for enrollment and financial issues, the school will lose its accreditation at the end of the year. The decision has been appealed, with a final call scheduled for February, but it doesn’t look good.
Bennett College, founded in 1873 as a teacher’s college for freed slaves, became in 1926 one of just two colleges in the country exclusively for black women — the other is Spellman College in Atlanta.
Think about that: In Greensboro, at the height of Jim Crow, they were giving college degrees to black women. That sort of enterprise — along with the Underground Railroad near Guilford College and the civil rights warhorse that is NC A&T University — is woven into the fabric of the city. Bennett Belles were integral to the Woolworth Sit-Ins, and so many have gone on to public service in the Triad it’s impossible to name them all, but the list includes Yvonne Johnson, who was Greensboro’s first black mayor and sitting councilmember, and Carolyn Payton, the first African American to head the Peace Corps.
But the allure of the school has paled in recent years — currently there are just 469 students, and while nearby A&T, which is a state school while Bennett is a private one, has undergone millions of dollars in upgrades, there has been no significant new construction on the campus for decades.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, charged with accreditation, specifically pointed out the school’s financial issues.
It’s not in Bennett’s favor that the land is in a fantastic location, downtown adjacent with plenty of space — it might be possible for A&T to absorb the school and its traditions in some manner, if the developers don’t get ahold of it first.
There’s a fix, of course, which — unless Oprah swoops in — is huge gobs of money. Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins told the News & Record that she’ll be tapping alumnae and other potential donors to satisfy the commission’s financial standards before Feb. 18.
Perhaps those Bennett Belles can pull off another miracle.