Morris Brown Struggles to Hold onto Accreditation

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Morris Brown Struggles to Hold Onto Accreditation

It was devastating news in the world of historically Black colleges and universites. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools stripped Morris Brown, a respected private Black college in Atlanta, of its academic accreditation. The decision in early December was based on the 117-year-old college's estimated $23 million debt, a federal fraud investigation alleging misuse of student finacial aid and the lack of a sound plan to turn matters around.

"Sounds as if they were spending more than they took in for several years," says Humphrey Doermann, co-author of Stand and Prosper: Black Private Colleges and Their Students. "Any college that does that, and that doesn't have a big endowment or a big savings account, is vulnerable. The arithmetic is the same for Black colleges and predominantly White ones."

Often, the loss of accreditation is a death knell for schools. Most institutions close, not able to operate without federal funding. Morris Brown's accreditation ruling means that the 80 percent of the school's 2,500 students who receive federal funding will no longer be eligible for the financial aid, which is the major source of revenue for the school. Also, students who are seniors may not be able to get into graduate school because most require a degree from an accredited institution.

But are Morris Brown's fiscal woes an indicator of a much bigger problem plaguing the nation's 105 historically Black colleges?

Yes and no, says Black college expert M. Christopher Brown II, a professor of higher education at Pennsylvania State University.

"While what occurred is an isolated incident, it's a reflection of all the HBCUS having a need for strong accountability, efficiency monitoring and capacity building," says Brown.

Black colleges were established after the Civil War with a mission to educate the African American population. They thrived as the only vehicle of higher education for minority students, offering a nurturing academic environment. A number of prominent African Americans are graduates of HBCUs. Morehouse counts the renowned civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and director Spike Lee among its alumni. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, choreographer Debbie Allen and Bill Clinton buddy Vernon Jordan matriculated at Howard University. …