by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef writes for the Martin Center about one N.C. college’s recent struggle with accreditation.
Founded in 1873 in Greensboro, North Carolina, Bennett College is one only two of historically black colleges just for women. It has been a four-year college since 1926, but in recent years it has, like so many other small, private colleges, found survival increasingly difficult. The school’s enrollment fell from 780 students in 2010 to 473 in 2017 and it posted deficits of about $1 million in 2016 and 2017.
When any sort of business—educational or otherwise—finds itself in trouble, its leaders know that they had better take steps to increase revenues, cut costs, or both. Sometimes they succeed in turning from red ink to black; sometimes they don’t. But for colleges that depend on students who in turn depend on federal student aid money, there is an added problem that makes things much harder, namely accreditation.
Colleges that lose their accreditation become ineligible for federal funds and when that happens, many students who need financial aid to afford their education immediately leave and few new students enroll. There are other ways of financing college, but Americans have become so hooked on the idea that federal grants and loans are the way to cover the high cost of college that it’s virtually a death warrant for a college to lose accreditation.
That’s the situation facing Bennett.
The college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and among the requirements for obtaining and keeping accredited status with SACS is “financial stability.” With Bennett’s declining enrollments and budgetary deficits, SACS put the school on probation in 2016, telling school officials what was already obvious—that they needed to stop losing money.
Two years went by. In December 2018, SACS again cast its eye on Bennett and, finding insufficient progress toward financial stability, announced that it was going to end its accreditation of the college.