Bennett College, a women-only historically Black school in North Carolina, is a step closer to finding a new accreditor after briefly losing accreditation around two years ago.
The school has gained candidate status with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, which mostly accredits small, religious colleges. Bennett could become fully accredited within the next five years if it continues to comply with the accreditor's standards, according to TRACS' manual.
Bennett sought out TRACS after the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges pulled the college's status over financial issues. The school stayed accredited with SACSCOC by suing the agency while searching for a new accreditor.
SACSCOC withdrew accreditation from Bennett in early 2019, saying the college lacked a "stable financial base." Before the decision, the college completed a two-month fundraising campaign to keep its accreditation that netted more than $9 million.
Still, the accreditor said the college didn't prove it had the resources to support its programs and services. A federal judge allowed Bennett to keep its accreditation with SACSCOC while it sued over the agency's decision.
Without accreditation, Bennett would lose access to federal financial aid and likely have to close, the college wrote in its lawsuit. A Bennett spokesperson declined to comment on SACSCOC, the budget or enrollment but wrote that "our focus is on our TRACS accreditation."
Bennett also asserted it took steps to stabilize its finances. It received a six-year loan deferment — relieving the college of a roughly $1.3 million annual debt obligation — and hired a company to grow its enrollment to nearly 700 students by the fiscal year 2024.
Doing so would more than double Bennett's enrollment of 311 students in the fall of 2019. About 80 fewer students enrolled this term, however, according to the News & Record, and federal data shows headcount declining most years since 2010.
The college eliminated jobs and underperforming academic programs, renegotiated service provider contracts and launched fundraising campaigns, according to its lawsuit. TRACS President Timothy Eaton wrote in an email that Bennett has also improved its budget by bringing on a new president and reducing expenses "to fit the enrollment population."
UNCF, an organization lobbying on behalf of private HBCUs, contended in a white paper last year that SACSCOC's peer review process lacks transparency and may be biased against HBCUs. The accreditor issued warnings to 29 HBCUs and placed 20 on probation between 1998 and 2013, a "considerably higher" rate than that of SACSCOC's nearly 800 member institutions, the paper notes.