Since losing its accreditation in 1997, Knoxville College is planning to submit its application for reaccreditation approval in April.
The school regained authorized status in Tennessee, which allows them to confer credentials. If the school is able to regain accreditation, students will be able to access federal financial aid funding and state funding opportunities, including the Tennessee Student Assistance Award, which offers repayment-free financial aid to students from low-income backgrounds.
“KC lost accreditation for a number of reasons, one of those being financial stability. Financial aid for students is one of the largest conduits of state dollars to the institution,” said Dr. Brittany Mosby, director of HBCU Success, a branch of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission focused on the health and sustainability of the state’s HBCUs. “In the 2021 school year, about $10 million went to HBCUs in the state through financial aid, and the year before that it was $12 million. That’s one of the reasons why accreditation is so important.”
Dr. Dasha Lundy, executive vice president and chief operations officer of Knoxville College, said Dr. Kevin James, president of the newly accreditated Morris Brown College helped guide KC on their mission to regain accreditation.
“He did it, so we can do it too,” said Lundy. “[James] believes in HBCUs, so he said yes. He’d been through it and he knew the pitfalls. He knew how to guide the team. If we did this by ourselves, it would have took longer” she added.
James helped connect KC with the University of Tennessee (UT) Knoxville. Dr. J. Patrick Biddix, professor and program coordinator of the Higher Education Administration Ph.D. program at UT Knoxville, said he was excited for the chance to collaborate with KC as it’s a historic staple of the Knoxville community.
“You can teach students what it’s like to work at state or private institutions, but an HBCU is special. It’s different, it’s needed, it’s necessary,” said Biddix. “HBCUs come with a tremendous amount of history. A lot of the learning took place for the students beyond accreditation, in understanding the importance and necessity of HBCUs in this country.”
Knoxville College is east Tennessee’s only HBCU and was founded in 1875 by the United Presbyterian Church for the education of newly freed men and women. During the 20th century, the school also had a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Notably, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the 1960 commencement speaker.
Biddix’s team of graduate students began working with KC leadership and James in June 2022.
They spent months on end sifting through, compiling, and aligning the information needed for the thorough accreditation process. According to Diverse Education, some materials, like the faculty and student handbook, had to be created from scratch and then reviewed by KC’s Board of Trustees for approval.
“The process of creating and understanding the materials, the pieces for the accreditation process, and the opportunity to work with a board of trustees toward approval and revision—that’s an incredibly valuable experience for the students,” said Biddix.
They are now in the final process of reviewing the hundreds of documents that make up their accreditation application, hoping to fill the abandoned campus full of students soon.
“When we think about retention rates, especially with Black males—HBCUs are still significant. We may not have a billion-dollar endowment, but we can depend on our sister institutions to help us,” said Lundy. “That’s what it’s all about. We’re here to serve people. This is a collaboration to show institutions can come together, not worry about who is taking whose students—it’s about lifting people and giving education to more people.”