From the Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record:

GREENSBORO — This year, amidst economic turmoil that threatens colleges of all sizes, one of the city’s smallest appears to be thriving.

While many campuses face layoffs and halted projects, Bennett College for Women saw its accreditation reaffirmed, posted a record enrollment of more than 700 students and boasted $1 million in alumni donations this year — a five-year high.

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On Oct. 16 , the school plans to break ground on a 144-bed honors dormitory that will be its first new building in 28 years .

“It’s a tough time out there right now, and we’re not immune to it,” said Bennett College President Julianne Malveaux. “But there are a lot of great things happening for us right now.”

The school’s $22 million capital improvements program also will include a global learning center with classroom, conference and office space; an expansion of the Children’s House and Intergeneration Center; and a wellness complex with a soccer field, tennis and basketball courts, and a walking track.

The groundbreaking on all projects is Oct. 16 .

“And the plan is for the dorm to be done by next fall semester,” said Bennett spokeswoman Wanda Mobley .

The small, historically black college has weathered some rough years. The school posted four budget deficits in five years before regaining full accreditation in 2003. As enrollment dropped, there was open speculation about whether the school could survive.

A change in leadership and aggressive fundraising put Bennett back on firm financial footing. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey helped raise money — and the college’s profile — at a benefit gala in 2006 .

When Malveaux took the helm in 2007 , she promised to be a good steward of the 136-year-old institution and to ensure that others understood its value.

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As one of only two schools in the nation that concentrates on educating black women, Malveaux said Bennett has an important mission and people are starting to understand that again.

“We have an alumni giving rate of 30 percent ,” Malveaux said. “Most historically black colleges and universities have a rate of about 15 percent . We’re very proud of that. But if you want to grow, you can’t just be a function of your alumni either.”

Malveaux said one of her most important jobs as president has been to go out into the Greensboro community and make sure her school — which calls itself “the oasis” — isn’t an entirely different world. It can’t afford that.

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