One of Atlanta’s HBCUs is celebrating a comeback story 20 years in the making.
“If not for HBCUs, many of us would not be here today,” said Morris Brown President Kevin James said at a celebratory press conference last week.
The jubilation comes after years of overcoming a financial aid scandal by ousted former school officials convicted of fraud charges, leaving many students with worthless degrees. Now the college looks to the future with a hard reset full of expansion plans for a new school experience.
“This semester we have five students graduating so this will be our first accredited graduating class since 2003,” James said after announcing Morris Brown’s newly accredited status under the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
The liberal arts college located on Atlanta’s southwest side was a bustling part of the city’s network of ABCU schools known as the Atlanta University Center — that is, until 2002, when it lost its accreditation. That meant it could not apply for federal education funding often used for student financial aid, Pell grants and on-campus housing.
The college lost its accreditation initially granted by Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges while under the leadership of former college president Delores Cross who, alongside former financial aid director Parvesh Singh, were both sentenced to five years’ probation with home confinement after they pleaded guilty to a financial aid fraud scheme that began in the fall of 1999.
Cross and Singh engaged in blanket enrollment, meaning they counted students who were registered to attend classes as enrolled students even though not all the students labeled as enrolled attended classes, a necessary requirement to get federal financial aid money.
Ninety percent of students were on financial aid and the school received between $15 million and $25 million dollars in federal aid each year just before authorities stopped the fraud scheme, according to the Department of Education.
“We lost our accreditation due to some financial mismanagement, but it’s a new day and we’re not looking to the past, we’re looking to the future,” James said of the school’s troubled past.
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