Morris Brown College students get approval to apply for federal aid

ajc.com

When Shermanetta Carter graduated from Morris Brown College in 1994, it was through the help of federal financial aid grants.

“If there were no Pell Grants available, or other sources of assistance, I would not have been able to finish Morris Brown as a first-generation college student,” Carter said.

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Shermanetta Carter, Morris Brown College's chief financial officer. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Shermanetta Carter, Morris Brown College's chief financial officer. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Combined ShapeCaption
Shermanetta Carter, Morris Brown College's chief financial officer. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

But for two decades, Morris Brown students have not had that access to federal funds, as the historically Black college in Atlanta has not been accredited.

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On Friday, the college’s president, Kevin James, announced that the U.S. Department of Education has approved its request for students to be able to apply for federal financial aid, a major step in its ongoing effort to regain its accreditation.

”This is a game-changer,” said Carter, now the college’s chief financial officer.

College officials said students hoping to enroll in the college in January can apply for financial aid and current students can seek retroactive assistance.

Morris Brown’s tuition is $4,250 a semester. Many of its students come from low-income households and need grants or have to take out loans to pay for tuition.

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Stephanie Gunby, associate vice president of administration and director of financial aid. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Stephanie Gunby, associate vice president of administration and director of financial aid. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Combined ShapeCaption
Stephanie Gunby, associate vice president of administration and director of financial aid. (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

”This is important because now our students will have access to funds to help them achieve their educational goals,” said Stephanie Gunby, associate vice president of administration and director of financial aid. “Where students before had to pay out of pocket, now they will have access to some of those federal funds that help low-income and first generational students attend college.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., wrote a letter last week to federal education officials requesting that Morris Brown be allowed to participate in federal financial aid programs. Ossoff said during his campaign last year he wanted to find ways to help the college.

“This decision to reinstate financial aid for students will ensure students can afford tuition, and thanks to Dr. James’ leadership, Morris Brown College is even closer to restoring its place as one of America’s preeminent HBCUs,” Ossoff said in a statement.

The college, founded in 1881, was the first institution of higher education in Georgia created by Black people for Black people. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools revoked Morris Brown’s accreditation in 2003 because of the school’s ballooning debt and financial mismanagement. In April, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools, a Virginia-based accreditation agency, approved the college’s application for candidacy status, an important step in the accreditation process.

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James said that the past six months, as the school was drawing closer to accreditation, applications to attend the school increased. He said he got over 250 during that period and expects that number to rise with the news of financial aid access.

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Kevin James, president of Morris Brown College (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Kevin James, president of Morris Brown College (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Combined ShapeCaption
Kevin James, president of Morris Brown College (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Credit: Courtesy Morris Brown College

Some have wondered why the school, which had about 50 students last semester, continues to operate. Students say they’re drawn to the school in part because of its refusal to close.

James said that improvements will continue to be made to the campus’ main building, although the main focus will be on online learning.

”We are preparing for it,” James said. “For Morris Brown, being one of the most affordable colleges in Georgia and the most affordable college in the Atlanta University Center, we anticipate an influx of interest. This is a new day for Morris Brown College.”