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Bennett College, one of only two remaining historically black colleges for women, raised $8.2 million from more than 11,000 donors in its effort to save its accreditation, surpassing its $5-million goal. Bennett, in Greensboro, N.C., has spent the last 55 days in a mad dash to stay open and extended its February 1 deadline for fund raising to count donations through this past weekend.
During a live-streamed news conference on Monday, college officials said that in addition to the $1-million challenge donation from nearby High Point University on Friday, Bennett had received $1 million from the Kwanza Jones and José E. Feliciano Supercharged Initiative, a philanthropic grant-making and investment group, bringing the 474-student college over its goal even before its initial deadline.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges told Bennett last semester that it would rescind the college's accreditation, citing financial instability, and gave it until February 4 to raise the necessary funds and appeal the decision. With that deadline now in its rearview mirror, Bennett must make its case at an accreditation hearing in Atlanta on February 18.
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"This has been a wonderful campaign. I can't tell you how many text messages, phone calls, and emails I got over the weekend asking whether or not we reached the goal," said Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, Bennett's president, at the news conference. "The checks were still coming in even as I walked in today."
The mood in Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel was celebratory from the start. The news conference started with performances by the Bennett College Choir and featured several speakers, including college officials, current and former Bennett students, and community leaders like Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in Stoncrest, Ga., who all spoke to the "spirit of giving" that had helped Bennett reach its goal.
When Dawkins said the college had exceeded its goal by more than $3 million, the chapel erupted into a standing ovation for several minutes.
Bennett's fund-raising efforts were propelled by a sweeping social-media campaign that drew support from alumnae, community leaders, national figures, and celebrities. Several congregations raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of the college, and other colleges showed their support as well.
Donations continued to pour in throughout the news conference. Dawkins was moved to tears when Nido Qubein, High Point's president, presented her with personal checks ranging from $100 to $100,000 from members of the High Point community.
The power of this campaign isn't "whether the gift was one dollar or a million. It made an impact," Qubein said. "This isn't about money. This is about the future of tens of thousands of young women who will exit Bennett to serve the world and plant seeds of greatness."
Bennett's accreditor removed the college from membership in the commission strictly for financial reasons; the college was not sanctioned for its academics, faculty members, leadership, or students, according to a statement from the college.
RELATED CONTENTTo help draft plans for Bennett's financial and academic sustainability, the Board of Trustees formed the Bennett College Re-engineering Committee, said Gladys A. Robinson, chair of Bennett's board. Although the names of the committee members have not been announced, Robinson said the group would include "national and local leadership."
President Dawkins said she is confident that the accreditor will decide in Bennett's favor. And the college is still tallying donations.
After the news conference, Dawkins led attendees out of the chapel toward the Bennett bell tower to close off the event. The ringing of the bell has marked special occasions on Bennett's campus since 1960. The college, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, was founded in 1873.
Gwendolyn Rice, president of the Bennett College National Alumnae Association, said the hearts of the entire Bennett community were overflowing with gratitude.
"The thought of losing Bennett was too much to bear, and today we have demonstrated that we would not bear it," said Rice.