There Couldn’t Possibly Be a Worse Time for Bennett, Saint Augustine’s to be on Accreditation…

The federal government is looking for every reason to eliminate support to black colleges.

The federal government is looking for every reason to eliminate support to black colleges.

Word out of Atlanta and the annual meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools is Bennett College for Women and Saint Augustine’s University are on accreditation probation, a step down from the warnings both schools received last year, and one step closer to revocation of access to federal student financial aid.

Both schools remain fully accredited, and students will continue to receive the much-needed funding to continue their pursuit of college degrees. But given the Obama Administration’s efforts to undercut underperforming schools, and the uncertainty of President-elect Donald Trump’s view on federal funding to institutions and students, any third-party disclosure of some HBCUs and their tattered finances is an open invitation to shut campuses down for good.

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Every HBCU has a different mission, a different kind of student to serve and community to anchor with degrees, outreach, and research. But there is a danger faced by schools with less than 2,000 students, and the outright crisis of institutions with fewer than 1,000 students.

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Every institution cannot be North Carolina A&T or Howard, with attainable visions of 10,000 students and a campus ready for expansion. Every campus can’t be Morehouse, Fisk or Paul Quinn, where the name brand of the school or the president is enough to overcome having less than 1,000 students and can potentially command millions in private funding or a good recruiting yield in any given year.

But schools below that second tier of brand and potential are in real trouble. An enrollment drop by a few hundred students, a presidential resignation or firing, a change in the repayment terms for a financed building; they can sink an institution in a heartbeat, and are the precursors to a public notice of an adverse accreditation action.

And then begins the hard work of letting black folks in the city and around the country know that the school has not lost accreditation, isn’t closing, and remains eligible for students to receive aid.

In most cases, it is not financial struggle, broken systems, systems or lacking leadership that drops a school, but their inability to demonstrate a plan to reverse a dangerous course and to stay off of it once clear of danger. This is the hill that Paine College is climbing by way of a lawsuit against SACSCOC, seeking to undo through litigation and emergency fundraising what years of executive neglect and financial mismanagement did to force its potential closure.

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Smaller HBCUs often don’t have the infrastructure like Tuskegee or Alabama State, schools which faced multiple warnings, but which also have the staffing and purchasing capacity to work their way out of negative status.

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And it’s these schools which face the greatest threat of being forced out of business by federal regulations. These schools serve an overwhelming majority of students from low-income homes, who overwhelmingly pick majors that do not earn a lot of money out of college and struggle to pay student debt.

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They are vulnerable to the will of the incoming Trump Administration, which because of the Obama Administration, will be free to accuse smaller HBCUs of defrauding the students with promises of jobs while saddling them with crippling debt that will block home ownership, entrepreneurship, family planning and other aspects of life beyond working.

But Paine, like Barber-Scotia, Knoxville and Morris Brown, keep fighting. They hope to raise enough money to one day say that they weren’t undone by corruption or bankruptcy, but by the undignified political and economic will of the 21st century, which shows us that black colleges aren’t necessary for industry, much in the same way black people aren’t needed to win an election.

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The message is clear: HBCUs cannot afford accreditation sanctions, because the fight is almost impossible to win without them.