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HBCU cornerstone, Morris Brown College fights for accreditation

By Roz Edward

Morris Brown College turned the corner on in its hard-fought bid for accreditation when the Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commissions announced that the historic college had been approved as an institute of higher learning. News of the school’s upgrade – which was publicly announced during the 127-year-old college’s homecoming week in Atlanta – rallied reveling students, alumni and administration anticipating the next step in the accreditation approval process, the greenlight from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in October 2020.

Accreditation is more than status

The designation means Morris Brown College will be eligible to apply for Federal Financial Aid Funding, clearing the way for current and future applicants to participate in student aid programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education.  When MBC, located in the prestigious Atlanta University Center, lost its national accreditation in April of 2003 for financial malfeasance, college administrators and faculty undeterred by the change in status continued to operate under extreme conditions.

“We went from 2,700 students to 70 students overnight, when we lost our accreditation,” said MBC’s interim president, Dr. Kevin James, regarding the chain of financial missteps and mismanagement that would ultimately launch officials into a Herculean effort to restore accreditation and increase enrollment.

“Over the next three to five years we plan to enroll 400 students. … But I anticipate, many more than that because Morris Brown as a college, is a trailblazer regarding who we are as a historical institution of record,” James explained. “Once we get accreditation, I foresee the doors opening to a flood of incoming students.”

Morris Brown’s 2020 Strategic plan projects that a significant number of the school’s incoming students, will be virtual students participating in online learning programs. “This semester we began our online programs and we’re maximizing our use of technology to grow a vibrant online [learning community]. That will help us immensely,” said James.

The college submitted its application for candidacy as an accredited institution in September 2019. “The goal is to go before the accrediting agency SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, at their national meeting in October 2020 and get approved as a candidate for accreditation” James explained. “Once we’re approved, we’ll be eligible for financial aid and I foresee the doors flinging open.”

During the school’s lean years, college officials found themselves in an unenviable position and ultimately had to sell parcels of the campus and liquidate assets, including dormitories and iconic instruction halls built by black workers at the first college for Blacks in Georgia, and where W.E.B Dubois taught classes.

James and MBC’s board of trustees are confident that they will secure housing for the more than 400 additional students who will join their numbers when the doors open for the freshmen Class of 2024.

“We are in partnership with the Interdenominational Theological Center, which is right next door to provide additional housing for students,” explained interim president James. “Morris Brown College is ready to reengage and position itself and fulfill its obligation as an accredited innovative institution, ready to make a difference for all that enter the doors of this ‘historic haven for hungry souls.’”

In a city rich with HBCUs and Black academia, the school built by Blacks and touted for more than a century as a premier institution for coeducational liberal arts disciplines has been struggling with support issues.

“There are two organizational [sectors] which have poured into building the Black middle-class, HBCU’s and churches, so we welcome the opportunity to partner with all churches to build financially and prove to the accrediting agency that we are financially feasible,” James explained.

Alumni on hand for the pre-accreditation announcement during the October homecoming celebration responded with solidarity and an outpouring of stories about Morris Brwon’s impact on their post-college lives.

“Morris Brown changed my life,” asserted Leslie Foster, Class of 1988 and president of Morris Brown’s Detroit Alumni Chapter. “I went to a PWI – a predominantly white institution – before I came to Morris Brown,” quipped the 26-year veteran senior analyst for Wayne County’s 36th District Court.

“I was in the top five percent of my high school class and I went on to General Motors Institute. But, I felt like I was just there, I wasn’t looked at. … When I got accepted to Morris Brown, that was the beginning of it all.”

Guinness Book of World Records title holder for the tallest man in the U.S., George Bell of Harlem Globe Trotters basketball fame, also attended the cornerstone institution’s gathering of alum. “I came here from Portsmouth, Virginia and fell in love with the school and the people. It was a fantastic experience and I was saddened to my heart to learn of the loss of accreditation. This was a good place to be,” said the 7 ft. 8 in. former MBC athlete.

Photo credit: Dr. Kevin A. James

There are only three college degree programs now, catering to less than 50 faithful scholars and a scaled-down faculty, but there is undeniable history and academic tradition here and that deserves preserving.

“As so many alumni and celebrants expressed over the course of this homecoming week, Morris Brown Changed lives, profoundly and forever,” reiterated Greg Jackson (’81), president of Prestige Automotive in Detroit. “I honestly don’t know where I would be right now if it weren’t for Morris Brown,” he continued. “So, if we want to carry that mission and the good works of the school forward, supporting Morris Brown is a no-brainer.” he said noting, “time is of the essence.”

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©2019 Atlanta Tribune: The Magazine

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