Despite Raising $9.5 Million, Bennett College Loses Accreditation — and Then Regains It Temporarily

Bennett College, the women-only historically black institution that spent the last three months fighting to remain open, lost its appeal on Friday to keep its accreditation. The accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges, affirmed its December decision to terminate the accreditation of the college, in Greensboro, N.C.

Following the announcement, Bennett sued the accreditor and had its accreditation temporarily reinstated.

Bennett had been given until February 1 to raise enough money to be in good standing before formally appealing the decision. The college surpassed its $5-million goal and ended up raising $9.5 million from tens of thousands of donors, including High Point University, a neighboring institution. With the help of a sweeping social-media campaign, dubbed #StandWithBennett, the college won the support of alumnae, community leaders, national figures, and celebrities.

Accreditation is critical to a college’s existence because it allows the institution to receive federal student-aid funds. Most colleges that lose their accreditation close.

At a live-streamed news conference on Friday, Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, Bennett’s president, said the college had sued the accreditor and would continue to be accredited for the duration of the legal proceedings, which could last up to two years.

In the meantime, Bennett has submitted an application for accreditation to the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. Officials of that accreditor will be at the college on March 14 for a site visit that’s part of the application process. Dawkins said it was possible that the college could be accredited by both groups at once.

The December 11 decision to remove Bennett’s accreditation was based solely on the college’s financial standing, so it could submit new financial information in its appeal. The accreditor had previously put Bennett on two years’ probation after it reported annual deficits of more than $1 million. At the start of the #StandWithBennett campaign, however, the college generated a surplus of $461,038.

A Path Forward

Despite the successful fund raising, the accreditor felt the college had not presented a strong enough case.

In Friday’s announcement, the accreditor said, “The Appeals Committee found that Bennett College had ‘failed to show that the institution possesses resources demonstrating a stable financial base to support the mission and scope of programs and services.’” The loss of accreditation was to be effective immediately.

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