Re-inventing Bennett: Committee to plan college’s future

GREENSBORO — Bennett College has appointed a committee of 19 local, state and national leaders to help plan the college’s future.

Former Greensboro Mayor Yvonne Johnson and former UNC System President Tom Ross will be the co-leaders of the Bennett Re-Engineering Committee that will meet for the first time Thursday.

In a statement, the private women’s college said its Board of Trustees wants the committee to identify new academic programs, suggest ways to improve student services and administration and recommend strategies to strengthen the college’s finances.

“This is a pivotal time in Bennett’s history and in higher education,” Ross said in a statement. The committee, he added, “has the cross-sector perspective and skills needed to put Bennett on a sustainable trajectory and to satisfy accreditation concerns.”

Bennett College said in January it would pull together a team of outside experts to revamp the struggling 400-student school. That announcement came a month after Bennett’s oversight agency revoked the college’s accreditation after years of financial struggles. As Bennett’s enrollment declined throughout most of the decade, the college posted annual budget deficits for six straight years until 2017-18. Bennett’s debt stood at nearly $35 million as of June 30.

Though Bennett raised $9.5 million from more than 14,000 donors in just two months this winter, the college lost its accreditation appeal hearing in February. The college then sued the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and remains accredited during the legal process. Bennett also is seeking accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.

The re-engineering committee plans, among other things, to conduct a survey and focus group meetings. The college said the committee will work into the summer but didn’t give a date for when the group might produce a final report.

Johnson, one of the committee’s co-chairs, is a Bennett College graduate who serves as mayor pro tem of the Greensboro City Council. She’s the executive director of One Step Further, a Greensboro nonprofit that serves youth and adult offenders. In 2007, Johnson was the first African American elected mayor of Greensboro.

Ross, the other committee co-chairman, is the former president of Davidson College and former executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem. The Greensboro native is now president of The Volcker Alliance, a New York City group that seeks to improve government.

Committee members come from the higher education, corporate, consulting, government and nonprofit sectors.


The committee includes four Bennett alumnae: Johnson; Gwendolyn O’Neal, a retired UNCG professor; Bernadette Watts, who is retired from the N.C. Cooperative Extension; and Sharrelle Barber, an assistant research professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Other committee members include Thomas Conway Jr., the retired chancellor of Elizabeth City State University; Greensboro attorney Kathy Manning; and Martin Eakes, founder and CEO of Durham’s Self-Help Credit Union.

To take the Bennett Re-Engineering Committee survey, click here.

To volunteer for a focus group, click here.

For more information on the re-engineering effort, click here.