Back when Kentucky wasn’t in the throes of winter, I walked around the former Sue Bennett College in London. In operation between 1897 through 1997, the college was affiliated with the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, the national organization of the United Methodist Church. It had started as an elementary school before becoming a two-year college.
The religiously-backed school was a necessity for those in the impoverished regions of the eastern and southern parts of the state where public schools were far and few between. Hazel Green Academy, Frenchburg Presbyterian College, Erie School, and others were all in small towns far from larger cities and prospered until the widespread adoption of public schools. While some of these private institutions closed outright, others became institutions of higher education.
Sue Bennett College was a viable institution for years, but dwindling financial outcomes took a toll on the school’s long-term viability. Enrollment steadily declined during the 1980s, and the replacement of some full-time students with commuters resulted in less paid tuition. An athletic program was added in the early 1990s in a bid to boost enrollment, but the gamble did not pay off and only increased administrative costs. The college then planned to offer four-year degrees to draw in new lines of revenue, but financial problems halted further work towards that goal. Debt was being used to cover student financial aid by 1995, and vendors were complaining about not being paid.
In 1997, Sue Bennett’s accreditation was stripped, and the remaining students were transferred to neighboring schools to finish their education. The Internal Revenue Service placed a lien on the college for long unpaid bills and withholding taxes. Despite some fundraising efforts, Sue Bennett College closed on November 26 after 101 years of operations.
London-native Jim Hayes, the eldest son of former president Earl Hayes, acquired the former Sue Bennett campus in early 2014. Hayes’ goals were to reuse the Administration Building for an antique store and alumni suite, clear out Helm Hall of its dormitory supplies, and secure the Belle Bennett Auditorium. Hayes also planned to lease the swimming pool in the Scoville Building to the London-Laurel County Rescue Squad for $1 per year.