After raising $9.5 million, Bennett College will now focus on long-term survival

Glenn H. Burkins

Bennett College was founded in 1873 to educated freedmen. It became a women-only school 1926. Along with Spelman College in Atlanta, it is one of two all-women’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States.

Can Bennett College find a pathway that leads to a more promising future?

More than two months after the Greensboro school raised $9.5 million in emergency funding, its board of trustees has appointed a “re-engineering committee” to develop a plan for the school’s long-term sustainability.

Led by former Greensboro Mayor Yvonne Johnson and Tom Ross, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina System, the 19-member committee will include individuals representing education, business, strategy, diversity and public health.

Why this story matters: Bennett is one of two historically black colleges for women left in the United States — Spelman College in Atlanta is the other — and it faces many of the financial challenges that also threaten other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

According to a press release, the Bennett Re-Engineering Committee (BRC) will “identify opportunities for Bennett to develop high-demand academic programs, provide exceptional student services and support, improve operational efficiencies and strengthen its overall governance, administration and financial sustainability.

The Committee has scheduled its first meeting for April 18, and its work will continue over the summer.

“As an alumna of Bennett College, I have a deep appreciation for the role this Institution plays in shaping the lives of young women,” Johnson, executive director of One Step Further, a Greensboro nonprofit, said in the press statement. “I am honored to co-chair this committee of esteemed and capable leaders who have answered the call to reposition Bennett for both immediate and long-term success.”

The committee’s assignment comes during a critical chapter in Bennett’s 145-year history.

In December 2018, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) voted to revoke Bennett’s accreditation, citing concerns over the school’s financial stability. That led to a national campaign that saw Bennett raise $9.5 million from more than 14,000 donors.

Bennett appealed the SACSCOC decision and later filed a lawsuit, which allows the school to retain its SACSCOC accreditation during the legal process. Meanwhile, Bennett also is seeking accreditation from a second body, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

Ross, who also heads The Volcker Alliance, which advocates for effective government, said the re-engineering committee wants to generate new ideas and welcomes input from Bennett stakeholders.

As part of its work, the committee is conducting a survey of “key stakeholders” at BennettBRC.com.

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