20190223g_nws_bennett_appeal

Bennett College is one of the two historically black colleges for women in the nation. Ten years ago, nearly 800 students were on campus. Now, there are fewer than 500.

(The latest in a series)

If you've been following the Bennett College story, you'll probably recall that the women's college is looking for accreditation from another agency now that its current accreditation is in jeopardy.

Bennett isn't blazing a new trail here. It's at least the fourth small private Southern college that has looked to the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools for relief after losing accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

A couple of stories published Wednesday go into more depth about what Bennett might be getting into.

Inside Higher Ed looks at TRACS and its mission (it was founded originally to oversee evangelical Christain colleges), SACSCOC and its relationship with historically black colleges and universities, and accreditation in general —especially the issue of accrediting agencies that take different views of the same troubled institution.

The Inside Higher Ed story goes into a wrinkle that I noticed a while back but haven't dug into, and that's TRACS' statement of faith, a 10-point document that starts with the Bible as God's infallible word and ends with the existence of Satan.

Here's Inside Higher Ed:

"Some skeptics have raised questions about what would appear to be an odd fit between TRACS, which has historically overseen evangelical Christian institutions, and the colleges affiliated with different faith traditions that have sought recognition there in recent years. While these colleges all have religious ties, they teach students of diverse faiths and do not require the same level of faculty and student shared beliefs as do the colleges originally accredited by TRACS. ...

"But Timothy Eaton, the president of TRACS, said colleges are not expected to adopt the same statement of faith as the accreditor — or to use it as a cue for the content of academic instruction. The organization expects colleges to issue their own statements of their values to inform staff and potential students.

"'We’re unapologetic that we think God is the author and the creator,' Eaton said. 'What we’re looking for is a Christian worldview, and so we’re looking for the institution to demonstrate how its Christian perspective plays itself out in the day-to-day life of students.'"

Bennett, like two of the three other SACSCOC-to-TRACS schools, is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. That could make Bennett a fine fit with TRACS.

Here's Inside Higher Ed again:

"(Bennett College President Phyllis Worthy) Dawkins said the history of TRACS has come up in conversations with students and parents. But she said there have been no efforts by the accreditor to impose a particular religious point of view on the college.

"'We were told very clearly that we can operate Bennett according to our United Methodist college doctrine,' Dawkins said. 'They don't discriminate against different institutions by religious affiliation. There's no conflict.'

Go read the whole thing, as they say.

Meanwhile, Diverse Issues in Higher Education covered similar ground in its look at Paul Quinn College in Dallas and Paine College in Georgia. Both seem pretty bullish on their experiences with TRACS.

Bennett comes up at the end of its story:

"(TRACS President Timothy) Eaton says he hasn’t read Bennett’s application because it’s too early in the process, but he was impressed with the Greensboro college’s ability to raise nearly $10 million in a highly publicized campaign from December to February.

“'It was incredible what a small and single-gender school was able to raise in such a short time,' says Eaton.

"Although the process typically takes 18 to 24 months and statutory regulations prevent TRACS from taking action on Bennett for one year, Bennett is likely to move along faster because of experience and motivation, he says.

"'From our perspective, that gives Bennett another year to continue to fund raise and make improvements,' says Eaton."

Go read that one, too.

Update, March 29: One of the those SACS-to-TRACS schools I alluded to above is Hiwassee College in rural Tennessee, which announced this week that it would close after commencement in May. The closing seems to have nothing to do with its TRACS accreditation and everything to do with the reason it lost its SACSCOC accreditation: It's tiny, and it doesn't have enough money to keep going. Inside Higher Ed has more.

Have something to say about the blog post above? Email me at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.