Today is the deadline for officials at Bennett College in Greensboro to meet a $5 million fundraising goal in an effort to have the school’s accreditation reinstated.
As of yesterday, the campaign was still more than $1.5 million short of the goal.
The accreditation of the historically black college for women was revoked in December by its accrediting agency, which questioned Bennett’s financial stability.
Private foundations and businesses have given Bennett more than $1 million in donations over the past week. School officials say they are still waiting to hear from several potential large donors. Alumnae and other individuals have also made substantial donations through the mail and the school’s online #STANDWITHBENNETT campaign.
Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, speaking on NPR’s 1A program, said:
"At this point, it’s at the grassroots level. When I say grassroots, I’m also referring to a lot of faith-based groups. Ministers are dropping off checks from their congregations and so the grassroots level has been tremendous. Not only faith-based groups but fraternities, sororities and organizations throughout the city as well."
Alpha Kappa Alpha, the country’s oldest African-American sorority, gave the school $100 thousand dollars this week and pledged $10 million toward Bennett’s endowment over the next four years.
Bennett needs the $5 million to convince the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SACS, that the college is financially sound.
The school has a budget surplus of more than $400 thousand dollars, but that’s after having budget deficits for seven of the last 11 years.
Dawkins says the college’s total debt is about $8 million.
About 10 years ago, Bennett officials borrowed more than $20 million from the federal HBCU Capital Finance Program to construct three buildings. Last year that loan was deferred, interest-free, for six years. Dawkins says they will use that time to stabilize the school financially for the long term.
"We’re going to look at a different business model for the institution. We’re going to look at partners, we want to stress innovation across the campus, we’re going to look at market-driven majors and above all, we’re going to look at opportunities to grow our endowment," she said. "We have to operate within according to the number of students that we serve. We are going to have to cut expenditures to accommodate that size."
Right now that’s 465 students, just over half of what the school can accommodate.
Dawkins says the endowment is currently $13 million dollars but that she wants to see that increase to about $50 million.
Bennett officials will get a chance to present their plans to SACS in an appeals hearing when the agency meets Feb. 18 through the 20th.
Dawkins says Bennett will sue SACS if its accreditation is not reinstated.
She is confident they will keep their accreditation during that process but says because Bennett is a United Methodist school, they have also applied for accreditation with the Transnational Association for Christian Schools.