Morris Brown, an Atlanta-based, private, coeducational, liberal-arts historically black college (HBCU) is now government debt-free after enduring years of financial woes. A news report from 11 Alive Atlanta confirmed that in April the U.S. Department of Education agreed to a $500,000 settlement which would absolve the college’s $9.4 million dollar outstanding debt, once paid in full.
The million-dollar debt was a result of years’ worth of unused, mounting financial aid that Morris Brown never returned to the Department of Education. The unreturned money was disclosed in a five-year audit of the school’s finances, prompting the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to pull the college’s accreditation in 2003. Dr. Dolores E. Cross was the college’s president from 1998-2002. In 2006, she pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling millions of dollars in federal funds from students and the college. Mr. Parvesh Singh was also charged with one count of embezzlement.
Until losing its accreditation and federal funding, Morris Brown was a member of the Atlanta University Consortium (AUC), the largest consortium of African-Americans in higher education. The consortium currently consists of four HBCUs in southwest Atlanta, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Spelman College. The consortium structure allows for students to cross-register at the other institutions in order to attain a broader collegiate experience. They also share the Robert W. Woodruff Library, a Dual Degree Engineering Program and Career Planning and Placement Services.
Despite its financial concerns, the college boasts a rich history, as it was founded by former slaves affiliated African Methodist Episcopal Church. Although enrollment is low, the college remains open, and is educating many of the country’s brightest African-American students, many of whom are first-generation college students. Dr. J. Pritchett, Sr., wrote in his “President’s Letter”: ”Losing our accreditation and access to federal funding has limited traditional revenue streams to support operational costs and to pay existing debts. We are working tirelessly to prepare for an accrediting agency to review our program this academic year. We are also identifying academic programs to support workforce development in a global economy and rebuilding our relationship with the United States Department of Education to provide students grants and loans. The college is working to regain accreditation and establish a Lifelong Learning Center.” Pritchett is the college’s 18th president.
Now that the college is debt-free, plans to apply for accreditation with the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools are underway.
Shani K. Collins is a freelance writer. You may visit her at www.shanicollins.com