It has been less than two weeks since Bennett College lost its accreditation and sued to get it back. The news cycle has given way to the take cycle, as people smarter than me try to figure out What It All Means.
I've seen a couple of pieces since Feb. 22 that I think are worth your time.
The first is from Crystal Sanders, an associate professor of history and African American studies at Penn State and the director of that university’s Africana Research Center. Sanders has written a couple of papers about Willa Player, Bennett’s groundbreaking president, and she writes knowledgeably about historically black colleges.
In a piece Sanders wrote last week in Diverse Issues of Higher Education, she argues that HBCUs like Bennett have had to make do with much less than historically white institutions. Despite these hurdles, HBCUs have helped black Americans make real progress. She notes that Bennett ranks 30th among private colleges in social mobility — ahead of Howard University and Spelman College, to name two — in a recent New York Times report.
Here’s Sanders, whose critical of the decision to revoke Bennett's accreditation:
“For certain, Bennett’s endowment is not low because alumnae do not give. The college has ranked in the top three for HBCU alumni giving for several years now with 35 percent of Bennett graduates giving back. The real issue is that the communities served by Bennett lack access to wealth so fundraising campaigns do not yield significant amounts. All of these facts mean that Bennett does not have as much cash on hand as other institutions, but it is not unstable financially.
“One size does not fit all, and the Bennett College story proves it.”
The second piece is a three-part story from HBCU Digest (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3) that looks at the lessons that other HBCUs could learn from the Bennett situation. It’s really a deep dive into Bennett’s accreditation, finances and debt, and Part 3 has a link to Bennett’s most recent financial statement.
Here’s a key takeaway that ends Part 3:
“Many people say they believe in the idea of HBCUs. They say they believe that campuses designed for black people should exist free of racial isolation, full of racial pride and ambitious with the promise of learning, training and community building.
“But the numbers suggest that we don’t believe in certain institutions living out that idea. We don’t enroll in certain schools, we don’t give to certain schools, and we don’t demand accountability from most of them. And save for the forced transparency of accreditation and its mandated reporting and review, we would never know just what kind of crisis the majority of our campuses face.”
Jarrett Carter, HBCU Digest’s founding editor, followed up with an op-ed: “This secret and silent suffering is what is killing our HBCUs.” There’s a lot of blame, Carter writes, to go around.
P.S. For the record and because people get confused on this point: Bennett College remains accredited, but on probation, through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges because of the lawsuit it filed Feb. 22. The college says it’s also pursing a second accreditation with Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, or TRACS.