NOEL KING, HOST:
Bennett College needs to raise $5 million in about four weeks. The school in North Carolina is one of the few historically black women's colleges in the United States. And for years, it has struggled financially. Last month, the regional body that accredits colleges decided to revoke Bennett's accreditation. Bennett College is appealing that decision, and it is working to raise money. The president of the college, Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, is on the line with me now.
PHYLLIS WORTHY DAWKINS: Good morning.
KING: Why is Bennett College in such financial trouble?
DAWKINS: Really, it has to do with the market crash in 2008-2009. Followed by - shortly after that, with the federal financial aid program, there's a segment in that program that deals with parent loans. And then the students and their parents had to demonstrate more years of credit history. And so that impacted the number of students that could demonstrate a good credit history. And that hit them because many of their parents, or many African-Americans at that time, lost jobs.
KING: So enrollment at the school has fallen to just under 470 students, which is about half of what it was a decade ago. And what you're saying is it was the changes to these federal loans that were allowing students to go to school. When the terms of the loan changed, a lot of your students had to drop out.
DAWKINS: That is correct. And not only did it hit Bennett College, but it hit a lot of historically black colleges.
KING: The process that led to the school being threatened with the revocation of its accreditation - this has been a process that's been going on for several years now. When you go to court in February, what happens if you don't win? What happens to your student body? And what happens to the school?
DAWKINS: Well, we will enter into a lawsuit. So in February is the appeal process, OK? We are appealing the decision. If we do not win the appeal process, then we'll enter into a lawsuit with our accrediting body. And with each level, we maintain our accreditation, so the students will graduate at the end of the semester. Students' courses count in terms of credit-bearing courses.
And then that lawsuit - once we register that lawsuit, we will enter into that lawsuit up to two years and maintain our accreditation. At the same time, we will seek other accreditation bodies to see if we can be accredited by them. So our goal is to maintain our accreditation, keep Bennett College open for the future so that we can recruit and retain students.
KING: You've launched a major fundraising drive. How is that going?
DAWKINS: It's slowly showing a good return on our investment in our social media campaign. So far, we've raised over a million dollars towards the 5 million. So we're about 29 days out from the February 1 deadline, and so we're stepping up our efforts in a variety of different ways to raise those funds.
KING: Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, president of Bennett College, thank you so much for your time.
DAWKINS: You're welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF AFFELAYE'S "MAYBE THERE")
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