Bethune-Cookman’s leadership expresses joy and relief about restored accreditation.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) recently received some long-awaited good news.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission of Colleges (SACSCOC) announced on Sept. 4 that it was taking the university off probation and restoring its accreditation.
On Sept. 8 afternoon, B-CU held a press conference and went live over social media platforms celebrating the announcement.
“Navigating off probation has been our singular most important priority. Getting off probation and restoring our accreditation was our only option. I am privileged and excited that we can continue and fulfill this institution’s mission,” commented Dr. E. LaBrent Chrite,’’ B-CU’s president.SACSCOC is an accreditation organization for degree-granting institutions of higher learning in southern states.
B-CU’s Board of Trustee Chairman Belvin Perry reflected, “Today is not only a day of celebration. It’s also a day to reflect upon our legacy and the people who made this possible.”
The restoration of the university’s accreditation is also exciting for alumni, who often showcase the pride of the institution.
National Alumni Association President Johnny McCray expressed, “This is a great time for B-CU. The National Alumni Association is thankful for this accomplishment as well as the leadership of Dr. Chrite, his leadership team and the Board of Trustees.”
“We have been able to solve a critical issue that had threatened the existence of this university,’’ McCray added.
Carmen Williamson recently was elected president of the Volusia County Alumni Chapter. This will be her second time leading the chapter. Williamson had a 10-year tenure as chapter president from 2005 to 2015.
“We are extremely elated with this accomplishment. We expected these results. We’ve been hard at work lobbying and raising funds for the university,’’ Williamson said. “We serve our alma mater financially, morally, spiritually, in every aspect for these students to be successful.”
Paid down debt
B-CU was placed on probation in 2018 due to several issues with governance and finances, which included a dorm construction project that significantly attributed to its financial instability.
Financial audits reported that the school was more than $18 million in debt in 2019 and around $25 million in debt in 2018. The school had reduced its debt down to $8 million back in March.
The Florida Legislature has pledged $17 million in funds to help B-CU. It’s a $13 million increase than previous funds. These funds will cover gap funding, which is costs students occur outside of tuition, room and board.
Restoration was critical
Accreditation restoration is critical to B-CU’s survival. Like many HBCUs across the nation, the school faces challenges not only with financial support but also the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Losing our accreditation would have profoundly and perhaps irrevocably impacted our long-term viability. Viability to thrive and to exist. A loss of accreditation could deal a death blow to an institution,” Chrite explained.
“When you add the unprecedented and habilitating effect COVID-19 has had on our balance sheet, losing accreditation may have been too high for the university to pay.’’
Hard work, commitment
Perry praised B-CU’s administration for their work in securing the school’s future.
“This remarkable achievement resulting from unimaginable hard work and commitment by our senior leadership team each of whom sacrificed tremendously to protect the future of this university,’’ Perry stated. “Their persistence and fortitude reflect the very essence of Dr. Bethune which she would be very proud.”
B-CU’s failure could also have had ripple effects locally since the HBCU is located in the heart of Daytona’s Black community. It has been reported to bring in $136 to $300 million to the local community annually, according to past economic studies.
“After two years, our community of students, alumni, parents and neighbors can now plan for a long and robust future for this university founded by Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune,” Chrite emphasized.
Alumni are also hopeful for their alma mater’s future.
McCrary said, “I think we’ve preserved the institution’s legacy for generations to come. Now, we will restore the publics and stakeholders’ trust in the institution.”
SACSCOC also lifted probation for other HBCUs, including Tennessee State University, Southern University and Fisk University.
It also confirmed accreditation for Spelman College and Dillard University but placed St. Augustine University on probation.