Morris Brown College granted ‘candidacy’ for accreditation

Morris Brown College has taken a significant step toward accreditation. (AJC file photo)

Morris Brown College has taken a significant step toward accreditation. (AJC file photo)

Morris Brown College may have turned a corner after years of financial hardship and plummeting enrollment, as an accreditation agency moves to restore the Atlanta institution’s access to students with federal funding.

The Virginia-based Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools now counts the historically Black college among its roughly 90 members across the country, but the process isn’t over for Morris Brown yet.

The TRACS Accreditation Commission voted to grant Morris Brown “Candidacy for Accreditation” Tuesday morning, the organization’s president, Timothy W. Eaton, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He characterized the decision as a “resurrection” of Morris Brown. “They’re really closer to accreditation than they’ve ever been in 20 years.”

The status means the college now has the standing to apply to the federal government to enroll students who have government subsidies, such as Pell grants or federal loans. Students attending a school without accreditation cannot receive federal financial aid.

Historically, Morris Brown attracted first-generation college students from low-income households to its campus near downtown Atlanta. But in 2002, after years of financial issues and mismanagement, the Decatur-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges stripped its accreditation.

To keep the college afloat, some administrators obtained loans on behalf of students who were unaware that the college had applied for financial aid in their names. One former president pleaded guilty to embezzlement and was sentenced in 2007 to five years’ probation, including a year of home confinement.

Enrollment, which had peaked at 2,700, fell to a few dozen students. The college currently has 53 students, said Kevin James, the college president.

“I’m super excited,” he said. “History was made and this is just the beginning.”

Morris Brown has been working for nearly five years to get to this point. It now has five years to meet all the criteria for accreditation. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Education may allow access to federal funding.

Eaton said the college can apply both to enroll students with federal financial aid and to participate in direct federal aid programs, perhaps becoming eligible for a stake in the coronavirus stimulus.

Assuming the federal government gives swift approval, students enrolled this spring would be eligible to use federal aid at the college for the current semester, he said. The next challenge would be achieving enrollment and fundraising growth.

“This is a big step, particularly when you consider the access to the financial resources,” Eaton said, noting that the school has little in common with the institution that it was a generation ago. “Those people are long gone,” he said.

This is the second HBCU in Georgia that has been thrown a lifeline by Eaton’s organization in recent months. In late October, his agency approved the accreditation application of Paine College in Augusta.

Paine and Morris Brown share similar histories. Both were founded in the late 19th century to educate Black students, Morris Brown by the Georgia Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1881, and Paine the next year by Methodist church leaders, Black and white, with donations — including pennies from former slaves.