GREENSBORO, NC (WBTV) - Bennett College, a 146-year-old Historically Black College and University (HBCU), raised more than $5 million to save their accreditation. The College was facing a very steep financial challenge and needed to raise $5 million by February 1. Through donations from the community, local and national companies, and former and current students, Bennett College not only reached their goal but shattered it.
The school got the news in December about it’s changed status. Bennett College President Dr. Phyllis Dawkins said the school’s finances have been up and down, but thought since things were improving at the school - its accreditation wouldn’t be in jeopardy.
"We thought going into the meeting we would be removed," Bennett College President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins said. "Cause we have a good year, but they looked at us over time and so when you look at seven years of a deficit against four years of a surplus - it didn't calculate."
The president says there are about 95 standards a university must meet to remain in good standing with its accreditation.
The president says Bennett College was lacking in one area - finances. SACS believes the school doesn’t have enough money in the bank to survive.
"I am confident the money is coming in," the president said. "Everyday, every hour - I am very confident we will get that money."
Many people are stepping up to help Bennett. Black fraternities and sororities are donating money, also corporations are stepping up. Papa John's Pizza and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation each gave a $500,000 donation to the school. When WBTV went to visit the college, there was a desk full of envelopes with checks inside them from strangers.
“We hope that the donations we are receiving now are not just a one time gift. We hope that everyone continues to give to Bennett College,” the president said.
Many are concerned once Bennett gets the money needed to remain open - will the college be able to sustain itself so this financial challenge won't happen again.
“We will sustain the institution,” Dawkins said. “The board of trustees at Bennett College has voted to put together...a re-engineering committee. This committee will look at how we can re-imagine Bennett. Look at a different business model to ensure that we operate within our fiscal operations - to look at how we can re-imagine our majors going forward. We will look at some other things - internal operations - how we are organized in the workplace and then look at some partnerships.”
Members of the Charlotte Alumnae Chapter of Bennett College are stepping up. There are about 200 members strong. The local chapter president - Natalie Renee-Parker - is urging members to donate 1% of their earnings to help their alma-mater.
“We knew we didn’t want to ask for a lot more because we had already been giving, but what was a sacrificial price that someone could reach in 60 days. One percent seemed to be the most reasonable considering those factors,” Chapter President Natalie Renee-Parker said.
The chapter president put out the plea to members in December.
While they wait for the money, the chapter sought divine intervention.
“Not having all the information but saying God we know in this season - we need your help,” Renee-Parker said.
This financial challenge has the chapter president thinking about the future of her alma mater. She wants a plan in place to make sure Bennett College not only survives this crisis but thrives afterward.
"We have an opportunity to be more competitive for the consumer," Renee-Parker said. "To have degreed programs that are more competitive and to offer things to make sure our alum have good solid paying jobs. We need to re-evaluate everything about what's going on at Bennett College."
Bennett College president says she has worked with about 77 HBCU’s down through the years helping to get them back on track. She says she has done this work before and she believes she can do it again. History shows several HBCU’s have shut down - some because of finances. The president says what is happening to Bennett College is nothing new.
"It's just not HBCU's - I would say private independent colleges are all struggling," Dawkins said. "The public HBCU's are doing ok because they are supported by additional resources from the the state. We generally operate by tuition and enrollment. We are a tuition and enrollment driven institution. Many of them are just one step from where we are today."
The president presented a plan if Bennett College couldn't convince SACS to keep their accreditation.
“We will be accredited even if we lose our appeal on Feb 18th,” Dawkins said. “Cause then we will enter a lawsuit against SACS, and then we have two years to fight that lawsuit - so we will remain our accreditation. The second thing - if not SACS - then at the same time this month in February we will submit an application to another accrediting body to ensure that we are accredited whether it’s through TRACS (Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools) or through SACS. We will maintain our accreditation. We owe that to our current students and we owe that to the 4,000 applicants seeking to enroll in Bennett.”
The president says out of the 4,000 applicants the school has accepted roughly 1800 new students. The school currently has about 500 students enrolled. Dawkins expects about 600 new students will come to the school next year. The president says more students on campus will help with the money flow and keep the school open.
Some have blamed current leadership for this challenge. The president claims these financial problems happened before she arrived at the school.
She says she is committed to stay at the college and do her best to make sure Bennett is never in this predicament again. Her contract ends in 2020.
Dawkins says Bennett College still has a lot to offer and will be around for another 146 years to change and shape the world.
“Bennett College produces phenomenal women,” Dawkins said. “Strong women with a sense of leadership.”