By Yvonne Coleman Bach
Special to the NNPA from the Louisville Defender
LOUISVILLE – Simmons College has become accredited as the first private Historically Black College and University in Kentucky and is only the second HBCU in the state, along with Kentucky State University, a public institution.
Simmons has just learned that it has been accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE).
“Simply put, accreditation is value,” explained President Kevin Cosby. “It is proof that Simmons has met national standards necessary to produce graduates who are prepared to enter into selected professions.” He explained, “The accreditation of Simmons College of Kentucky will have a ripple effect throughout west Louisville and the Commonwealth of Kentucky and is the most monumental achievement, by African Americans, to take place in the state in the last 100 years.”
Most HBCUs were founded in the post-Civil War era, when Blacks were not allowed to attend college with Whites. Today, many private HBCUs are struggling to remain keep their doors open. Last summer, St. Paul’s College, a private Black institution in Lawrenceville, Va., ceased operating after being in existence since 1888. Its 35 buildings and 183 acres have been put up for public auction.
Simmons College sees itself in the opposite trajectory and will be a vital force for the community it serves.
Rev. F. Bruce Williams, chair of Simmons’ Board of Trustees, said the goal of the college is to “teach the unteachable and reach the unreachable.”
And there are plenty of needy people to reach.
The college is in west Louisville, in the heart of the 40203 zip code. With open enrollment, it targets students in zip codes 40203, 40210, 40211 and 40212. Those four zip codes contain a population of low-income, first generational college students with limited resources to attend college.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 76,399 people live within those zip codes, 15,184 being between the ages of 20 and 34. The unemployment rate for those in that age group ranges from 20.6 percent to 38.8 percent. In the 18 to 25 age group, 55 percent do not have a high school diploma.
Simmons College is a story of revival.
Founded in 1879 by former slaves as the Kentucky Normal and Theological Institute, Simmons College of Kentucky was the premier liberal arts institution for African Americans in the state. With law and medical departments, a teacher’s school and ministers’ studies, Simmons prepared a number of well-trained Black attorneys, physicians, teachers and ministers and emerged as a top choice for Kentucky’s Black middle class.
But like most Black colleges, it has recently struggled financially.
Under the leadership of President Cosby, who took the helm seven years ago, Simmons has taken several steps to restore it to its original prominence. In 2007, the college regained its original campus after 77 years and relocated to its original site. In 2010, the institution attained candidate status with national accreditor ABHE, making it immediately eligible to receive federal funds under Title IV.
It signed an articulation agreement with the University of Louisville and enjoys partnerships and agreements with Jefferson Community and Technical College, Spalding University and Campbellsville University. Simmons is a signature partner of the 55,000 Degrees, a community-wide effort to add 40,000 bachelor’s degrees and 15,000 associate’s degrees in the Louisville Community by 2020.
Rev. C. B. Akins, a Simmons Trustee, said “The time was right for Dr. Cosby to be at the helm of this school. If I told him he could not swallow an elephant, he would say, ‘I can if I take one bite at a time.’”
With the recent accreditation, Simmons is diversifying its curriculum with new Associates and Bachelor’s Degrees, starting with the 2014 fall semester. Four new degree programs will be added, including Associates Degree in General Studies, Bachelors Degree in Business Administration with the focus on entrepreneurship, Bachelors Degree in Communications with focus on cross-cultural communication and a Bachelors Degree in Sociology with the focus on lifelong wellness. In 2015, Simmons plans to reopen its West Campus, located in the most destitute and deprived area of west Louisville.
At the celebration last week announcing the accreditation, Carl Thomas, executive director of the Gheens Foundation, presented a check to the college for $2 million.
“The Gheens Foundation applauds the work of Simmons College of Kentucky and its desire to bring about transformational change in west Louisville,” said Thomas. “We hope our gift will encourage others to give to this important work taking place at Simmons.”
Also joining the celebration were Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY), State Senator Gerald Neal and Metro Council President Jim King.
Senator Paul said, “What an exciting day.” He said he was proud to be a part of the ceremony, acknowledging Simmons as an Integral part of Louisville and Kentucky.
Yarmuth borrowed a quote from Vice President Joe Biden, saying, “This is a big deal.”