Sue Bennett College

Sue Bennett College

Sue Bennett College, a former private college that operated between 1897 and 1997, was located in London, Kentucky. Affiliated with the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, the national organization of the United Methodist Church, it began as an elementary school before becoming a two-year college.






History

The Bennett family of Madison County were one of the wealthiest in the commonwealth and wielded influence in providing educational opportunities to lower-income Appalachian residents. The Bennetts opted to build an elementary school in London as it was located along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad and two major roads. 6 The family obtained a grant of $20,000 from the women of the Methodist Parsonage Society and $20,000 in matching funds from local donors. 4

The ground was broken for the Sue Bennett Memorial School on May 8, 1896, 6 which opened on January 5, 1897. 5 Among its founders were Sue and Belle Bennett, Lucinda B. Helm, John J. Dickey, and Sarah Harding Sawyer.

High school classes were added when the Commercial Department building was added in 1901 4 and became a two-year college in 1922. 4 5 Sue Bennett Memorial School became Sue Bennett College in 1930, 1 and received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges & Secondary Schools (later the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS)) in 1932. 5

Sue Bennett Memorial School also served as the county’s only high school between 1910 and 1933. 4

Decline and Closure

SACS placed Bennett College on accreditation probation in 1983 because of the school’s financial and enrollment difficulties, which included $6 million in debt. 4 SACS reinstated accreditation after the college borrowed money from its endowment fund for chairs and scholarships to pay down the debt, and developed a five-year financial plan.

The University of Kentucky proposed making Bennett College a part of the community college system in 1991. 4 The trustees recommended the merger with a sweeping vote of 13 to 2 but the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries that ultimately owned the college property and controlled the trustees rebuffed the offer.

Football, men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and cross-country sports were added in the fall of 1992 in an attempt to add 50 students to campus without increasing administrative costs, but the enrollment growth never came. 4 The college also pushed a new four-year business degree program and had proposed adding courses in the fields of education, law enforcement, nursing, paralegal, secretarial services, and social service.

But Bennett College was paying financial aid to students with debt and by 1995, vendors were complaining about bills not being paid, followed by complaints by retired faculty about their benefits were being withheld. 4 The college’s auditors resigned in 1996.

Despite the financial and enrollment pressures, Bennett College announced that its enrollment had spiked by 14% and that it would build three new dormitories to modernize its campus and prepare it for future growth. 4

In June 1997, SACS recommended withholding Bennett College’s accreditation as it had insufficient educational resources, library collections, and technology, an unclear instructional purpose, a lack of guidelines for evaluations, insufficiently prepared faculty, and poor finances. 4 The college lost its accreditation on September 22 and on October 6, the federal Department of Education issued a Notice of Intent to Terminate the college from participating in the federal student financial assistance programs authorized by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965. 3

The Internal Revenue Service also placed a lien on the college over unpaid bills and $200,000 in unpaid withholding taxes. 4 Despite offers of a 5% pay cut for faculty, a gift from Claudia Sanders (widow of Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken), and $800,000 that was raised in fundraisers, the debts were insurmountable.

Sue Bennett College closed after 101 years of operation on November 26, 1997. 2 Most of the remaining students were transferred to Cumberland College, Union College, and Lindsey Wilson College, all of who agreed to waive admission fees, allow the transfer of all academic credits and provide financial assistance. 4

London-native Jim Hayes acquired the former Bennett College campus in early 2014, which at the time was used by Laurel County Adult Education, Sunrise Children’s Services, and Connect Church. 7


Gallery






Further Reading


Sources

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  1. Historical marker.
  2. Sue Bennett College Closes. Worldwide Faith News. N.p., 2 Dec. 1997. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. Letter.
  3. United States Department of Education v. Sue Bennett College. No. 97-143-EA, 97-145-ST. 10 Feb. 1998. United States Department of Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. Article.
  4. Brown, Alice W. “Sue Bennett College.” Cautionary Tales: Strategy Lessons from Struggling Colleges. Sterling: Stylus, 2012. 69-77. Print.
  5. Ellis, William E. A History of Education in Kentucky. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. Print.
  6. Clark, Thomas Dionysius. “Sue Bennett College.” The Kentucky Encyclopedia. Ed. John E. Kleber. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992. 859-60. Print.
  7. Johnson, Nita. “Bennett Center sold.” Sentinel Echo [London] 4 Mar. 2014: n. pag. Sentinel-Echo.com. Web. 13 Feb. 2015. Article.

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13 Comments

  1. I am 55 years of age and originally from Hamilton Ohio. I now live in Somerset, Kentucky and married James Wilson from London Kentucky in 1985. As a child my family would have their employee family picnics at an Amusement Park names LeSoursdville Lake that was located in Hamilton, Ohio. While attending there as a child of approx 12 or 13, people kept calling me by ANOTHER name, Sue. As my family and I left the park, me and this other young girl accidentally ran into each other, what was so uncanny about this bizzare event was we BOTH HAD THE SAME INDENTICAL clothes on ,and we LOOKED ALMOST LIKE INDENTICAL TWINS. Her family couldn’t believe it,nor could mine. Her family had taken a photo of the both of us and I did get her name, Sue Bennett from LONDON , KENTUCKY…. Would anyone know a Sue Bennett around the age of 55 in 2020. If so, PLEASE EMAIL ME AT mammywilson0708@gmail.com

    I am thinking she has bound to have some connections with the college in London, My where later in my life I married my husband of 35 years..

    Belinda (Colyer) Wilson

  2. Wow. In the fall of 96 I was a member of Salisbury Univeristy Football team and SB was the last game of the year. Was that the last game ever played there?

    Also if there’s any pictures or Vids from that game, love to see them. I had no idea they closed down. I do recall they were not part of NCAA, but NAIA and the facilities lacked a bit.

  3. My name is Isabel Lewis McMakin Reigel. I am the Granddaughter of James Lewis who with the Aid of the Bennett Family and the Methodist Ministries was the first President (Principal) of the Sue Bennett Elementary School later to become the Sue Bennett School. It is my understanding that he furnished his labor to build the first structure of Red Brick that was used for the school classes and later for Administration of the school.. He graduated from the University of New Castle that is well known for being among the Red Brick Universities of England. He and his wife Georgina Campbell Lewis had ten children. Their first two children were born in London, England and the eight latter children were born in London, Kentucky. My mother was the youngest; she was named Isabel Georgina Lewis after Sue Bennett’s sister, Isabel. I was named after my mother. I feel my Grandfathers name should be mentioned in this article for all that he and his family gave to the life of this school,and for their dedication to the work of the Methodist movement.

  4. Just wondering what happened to the photos from the historic society. I was the Editor of the last yearbook and would love to get in touch with someone who had those historical pictures we used in that yearbook.

  5. Would anyone know how to get old video footage of basketball games for Sue Bennett during the 1964/65 year.

    1. No video but I was the Editor of the last yearbook and there was a bunch of great photos that we used in the yearbook from the historic society I don’t know what would have happened to them. If I find out I would be more than happy to send you what I find.

  6. Does anyone know how to obtain transcripts for a student who attended college at Sue Bennett in the mid-90’s?

    1. I live in London and I often go up to Sue Bennett for paranormal investigations. At night the place really comes alive.

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