Editorial: Neighbors come calling, with little something to offer Bennett College

Our country has just two historically black women’s colleges remaining, one of which we nearly lost.

That was before the neighbors came calling.

Bad headlines have plagued some of our state’s fine institutions of higher learning recently, specifically at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. So when news came Feb. 1 that High Point University had stepped up for tiny and troubled Bennett College, we realized there may not be a better feel-good story this year throughout our state’s many college campuses.

Four historically black colleges and universities, commonly known as HBCUs, have closed since 2005. Among them was Mary Holmes College in West Point, Mississippi, which left only Bennett and Spelman College in Atlanta as the remaining women’s HBCUs.

Bennett is in Greensboro, with a little over 400 students this spring on its Guilford County campus. The school’s struggles reached a point so low that in December the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges decided to revoke accreditation, citing Bennett being short of sufficient financial resources.

Accreditation is the lifeblood of many small colleges. It’s a must for getting federal Pell Grants and student loans as payment for tuition, fees and other expenses. Often, colleges not accredited are only a step away from closure.

Bennett appealed and remains accredited. The college also set out upon a $5 million fundraising campaign, one that drew national attention and donations from celebrities.

Then came the call from High Point University, another private institution in Guilford County. It is far from financial trouble, growing by leaps and bounds and paying its president $2.9 million annually — third-most among private universities in the country. Three out of every four students on its campus are white, as are more than eight of 10 faculty members. Costs for undergrads to attend High Point are more than twice that of Bennett.

Yes, two very different places. And yes, both very much on the same mission to educate.

Throughout the ordeal, Nido Qubein has been in contact with his colleague, Bennett President Phyllis Worthy Dawkins. His university pledged to stand with Bennett in the form of a $1 million gift.

“We as a neighbor school cannot stand by and let Bennett just somehow go down a valley that’s less than extraordinary,” he said.

Dawkins said she was “overwhelmed by the support.”

Qubein offered, “As one of our faculty members said today, there but by the grace of God could go any one of us.”

Bennett will have a formal appeal filed for a Monday hearing. But with $8.2 million having been raised— more than $3 million above the goal — there’s confidence in the answer coming back.

The neighbors came calling, with a little something to offer. There’s new life, and that feels really good.