Ossoff Speaks At Morris Brown, Promises Aid For HBCUs If Elected

Jon Ossoff, left, a Democratic Senate candidate in the Jan. 5 runoff, speaks at Morris Brown College on Tuesday. Ossoff wants to expand the federal Pell Grant student aid program to help college students curb loan debt.

Martha Dalton / WABE

Morris Brown College has a storied history. It’s the first college in the U.S. built by former slaves to educate African Americans.

Morris Brown hit hard times in 2002 when it lost its accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Two of the college’s former administrators pleaded guilty to embezzling charges. In 2012, Morris Brown filed for bankruptcy to avoid going into foreclosure.

Now, the college has a new president, Kevin James, who says he’s committed to helping Morris Brown regain accreditation.

One of Georgia’s Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, Jon Ossoff, spoke at Morris Brown on Tuesday. (The three other Senate candidates—Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and Democrat Raphael Warnock—were also invited to speak but didn’t respond.)

Ossoff told James he’ll try to secure funding for Morris Brown and other historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) if he’s elected.

“I want to pledge to you, Mr. President, that as Georgia’s United States senator, I’ll be at your fingertips,” Ossoff said. “I’ll work tirelessly to deliver the resources that this institution needs, not just to get back to where it has been, but to achieve higher and higher heights.”

Part of Ossoff’s plan to increase funding for HBCUs includes expanding the Pell Grant program, which provides federal financial aid to students.

However, until Morris Brown is accredited, students can’t receive federal funds.

The Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) recently approved the college’s application for accreditation. After a January site visit, James hopes a TRACS commission will vote to make Morris Brown a candidate for accreditation in April 2021, which would let students apply for federal money.

TRACS President Timothy Eaton says the process is likely to take longer.

“The president [James] is probably just assuming success in their upcoming site visit and achieving candidacy status with TRACS,” Eaton said. “Typically, it takes a little longer than that [after the site visit] for an institution to come before the commission.”

Eaton said the accreditation process usually takes between two and five years once an institution receives ‘candidate’ status.

But not much can dampen James’ enthusiasm for the college he’s now charged with leading.

“Morris Brown is back,” James said. “We’re going to bring this institution back stronger than ever. We don’t turn folks away. Anyone who deserves an education, anyone who wants an education. The doors are open here.”