Supporter donations help beleaguered North Carolina college

Officials at a historically black private women's college in North Carolina say they have received more than $1 million in donations in their attempt to stave off closure

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Officials at a historically black private women's college in North Carolina say they have received more than $1 million in donations as they try to stave off closure.

The News & Record of Greensboro reports Bennett College learned last month that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges voted to take away its accreditation after years of financial struggles stemming from falling enrollment.

The college is now trying to raise more than $5 million by Feb. 1. Helped by social media and news coverage, donations to Bennett are approaching the $1.5 million mark.

"It's tremendous," Bennett President Phyllis Dawkins said. "The outpouring of support to Bennett just makes us feel very good."

Though the college had been on probation for the two previous years — the maximum allowed by the commission — Bennett's academics have been sound, enrollment is up to about 470 students, and the college posted a budget surplus last year for the first time in three years. Still, the accrediting agency ruled that Bennett had failed to show it had "sound financial resources and a demonstrated, stable financial base."

For now, Bennett remains accredited, and its students can continue to use Pell Grants and federal college loans to pay tuition until an appeal hearing next month.

In three weeks since the commission's decision, Dawkins was interviewed on NPR's "Morning Edition," and a variety of outlets have covered the school's plight. The college's social media campaign, #StandWithBennett, got noticed by Jussie Smollett, who stars in the Fox TV series "Empire" and has more than 1.3 million Twitter followers. A tweet of Smollett and brother Jake in "Stand with Bennett" T-shirts was shared and liked on Twitter more than 4,000 times.

A Georgia pastor urged his congregation to collect $10,000, and it came up with $12,000. Bennett seniors are being asked to give $20.19, symbolic because it stands for their graduation year.

Bennett is exploring other fundraising options that Dawkins has called controversial because she's not sure if the college's board of trustees will go along. One is selling one or two pieces from the college's art collection, and the other is selling property it owns in the Greensboro area.

"I'd rather have the campus than the art," Dawkins said.

The school is also looking at accreditation from another agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, but Dawkins hopes the school won't need a backup plan.

"We're pretty confident," Dawkins said, "that we're going to make it."


Information from: News & Record,