Los Angeles Times

Historically black colleges locked in fight for survival

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Pilar Hughes watched students crisscross the wide quad at the center of campus, remembering her first year at Bennett College.

The tiny classes. The soul food lunches served on Wednesdays. The sisterhood and the overwhelming sense of self-worth the all-women's black college offered.

"There is so much love and community here," the freshman said on a warm spring morning. "I'm sure the experiences here will help me in life."

And yet, she plans to transfer.

Bennett, one of two all-women's historically black colleges in the country, could be on the verge of closure. Years of financial woes have led recently to a federal court battle over its accreditation, without which the future of any college is dim.

Meanwhile, students like Hughes flee. Ten years ago, nearly 800 students roamed Bennett's campus; now there are fewer than 500.

Bennett's story reflects that of many of the nation's 102 historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, most of which formed after the Civil War.

In recent years, the institutions overall have seen enrollments plummet, endowments decrease and student

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