Barber-Scotia College’s New President Charts A Course For Revitalization For The HBCU After Years Of Decline

Chris V. Rey is tasked with pulling the North Carolina school back from the brink of disaster years after it lost accreditation. But he says there is reason for optimism.

Barber-Scotia College, one of the nation’s oldest historically Black institutions, has been on life support for a number of years – hobbled by accreditation issues, crumbling campus buildings and a mountain of debt. But the Concord, N.C., school is engaged in a fight to turn things around.

And as of recent, it has a new champion.

“This institution is 156 years old, and we've never closed our doors, even during the challenging times that we've had,” the HBCU’s newly appointed president, Chris V. Rey, told “We have had continuous students, continual services that we've provided, and we've graduated our last cohort of students.”

Rey has a resume packed with multiple leadership positions. At age 45, he’s a retired U.S. Army officer, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, former Mayor of Spring Lake, N.C., and current International President of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.

He’s now tasked with steering Barber-Scotia back from the brink of total disaster and transforming the college into a thriving member of the HBCU constellation.

“We're in the process now of assembling a new team of faculty and staff that is going to help marshall the future of Barber-Scotia,” Rey said. “My plan is to apply for re-accreditation in January of 2024. That gives me the rest of the year to assemble my team and put new systems and processes in place for the institution.”

Regaining accreditation will involve making sure that academic policies and procedures are in place, getting the school’s fiscal house in order, and showing a serious plan to continue to grow the institution, he added.

“I'm confident Barber-Scotia will be able to do that,” he said with unwavering confidence.

Rey was born on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas where he was reared by his grandmother and great-grandmother. But his formative years were spent in Spring Lake. In high school, he earned a full athletic scholarship in track and field and attended East Carolina University where he earned a B.S. in business administration. He later earned his law degree from the College of William and Mary.

He credits his grandmother with instilling a sense of service and faith in him, which he has used in his various positions that prepared him for the task ahead.

“In all those leadership roles that I have been in, I've always been in the people business,” he explained. “Being in the military, it's about defending and protecting your people and our nation. When I was a mayor, it was about making sure that I created a safe and green environment for people.

“As the International President of Phi Beta Sigma, it's about working with a group of men whose mission is to be engaged with the future of their communities. So I'm in the people business. I bring all of that experience to this role in so many different ways on how to work with people and lead major organizations.”

Bringing Back An HBCU Jewel

In 2000, Barber-Scotia, founded by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. shortly after the Civil War to educate Black women, later becoming co-ed, borrowed $12  million from the federal government. But the college defaulted on the loan five years after it lost accreditation in 2004, which caused enrollment to plummet and the school to spiral down an abyss.

It doesn’t help that the school has been $460,000 in debt to Concord, N.C., for tearing down dilapidated structures a decade ago, and a contentious relationship between them remains as a city task force focused on revitalizing the school has reportedly been dissolved. In a statement, the city says the school has refused to work with them.

“It is our sincere hope that one day we may still see a vibrant, restored campus buzzing with activity and thriving with renewed energy and purpose,” the statement reads. “Our city is growing and it is our deep desire for the college to grow with us.”

The trouble Barber-Scotia has found itself in is no secret. Its student enrollment has dwindled from the 600 it had two decades ago, when it lost its accreditation. Four students graduated this past year after taking online courses. Most of the land and property on the campus lost its tax-exempt status earlier in 2023 after assessors saw the condition of many of its buildings.

But Rey says the huge federal debt is now in the rearview mirror.  In 2021, the Education Department listed Barber-Scotia as one of the 45 institutions that participated in the HBCU Capital Financing Program to receive debt forgiveness. According to Rey, the federal loan default was a key reason why Barber-Scotia failed to regain its accreditation in the past. He’s now laser-focused on reapplying and a new idea should help get back the school’s financial footing.

The school launched the Barber-Scotia Rising Initiative in which it is asking supporters to contribute $156 – representing $1 for each year of Barber-Scotia’s existence. The goal is to raise more than $1 million by the end of 2023 from 6,500 donors.

Just one day after the launch, the campaign raised $10,000. “I'm just excited to see the resources already coming in where individuals say, I'm going to support. I'm going to give and make it happen,” Rey said.  “The Barber-Scotia Rising Initiative will raise us $1,000,000 and allow us to pay off the city and have operating capital to sustain the college while we continue to build our infrastructure,” said Rey.

The HBCU Endowment Gap: Why Black Colleges Lag So Far Behind PWIs

Barber-Scotia is one of several HBCUs which have fallen on hard times, and do not get the amount of media mention that Howard, Morehouse, Spelman and others typically get. It also has not gotten near the amount of funding and is far from alone in the struggle to survive a tumultuous financial sea for Black colleges. By 2019, six HBCUs closed their doors over a 20-year period, and several schools had lost accreditation.

Only a handful of HBCUs have thrived, some of them having large endowments and high-profile alumni with deep pockets. Many others have struggled to make ends meet after decades of state underfunding that amounts to billions of dollars.

Denise Smith, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, a public policy research organization, said Black colleges like Barber-Scotia, Morris Brown and others, that have faced critical financial problems, come from multiple factors.

“Colleges like these, that are private institutions that are reliant on a few revenue sources, depend on (U.S. Department of Education) Title III, Part B funding, philanthropic donations and contributions from alumni,” said Smith who authored a report on supporting financial equity for HBCUs for The Century Foundation. She says schools like this can use bolstering of their endowments and other funding resources. “Barber-Scotia staying open is important for that area of North Carolina because of the University of North Carolina’s involvement in the affirmative action decision. The opportunity that it presents to students that may not be able to enter UNC is timely.”

Leslie Jones, founder and director of The Hundred Seven, an online HBCU engagement platform said Barber-Scotia’s comeback would also take committed leadership and creation of relationships much like Morris Brown in Atlanta, Tennessee’s Knoxville College, or Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

“Leadership has always been the biggest thing," said Jones. "In these different schools they consistently had leadership, they are networking with each other, and they are working to see what others did successfully.”

Despite Barber-Scotia’s trouble, the school refuses to give up. It found Rey at the end of a nationwide search for a successor to its former president Dr. Melvin Douglass, one of a string of resignations of presidents over the last decade. Tracey Flemmings, a 1986 graduate of the school stepped in to fill the role in the interim until they found someone they believe can change course.

“We are ecstatic to have Mr. Rey join our Barber-Scotia College Community.  He will bring great energy, wisdom, professionalism, and the support our campus needs.  We are pleased with his selection, and we will have a loyal and enthusiastic team of alums that will be here to provide continued support,” Flemings said in a statement when Rey’s hiring was announced in July.

Meanwhile, the college still has to figure out how to fix its infrastructure. The campus has fallen into “disrepair” in the nearly 20 years since losing accreditation. The Concord City Council, says six of the 15 buildings are “deemed uninhabitable and another three with violations” several years “since students lived and studied on campus.”

Despite all the challenges ahead, Rey said he has good reasons for optimism. Reaching fiscal solvency will take $2 million, he says and another $2 million will get the school in a position to have students on campus on a regular basis. He is hoping to have about 50 students this coming school year. The growth, he says, will come from a well-structured support system.

“The alumni of Barber-Scotia College are absolutely phenomenal. These individuals are the reason why the doors of this college have not closed,” he said, noting that the college raised a little more than $190,000 in 2022 that “helped to keep the lights on, keep the grass cut, and handle minor repairs for the institution.”

When asked how he’s able to juggle the demands of his new job with his other roles – including fatherhood – Rey said it comes down to controlling all the “distractions in our day-to-day life,” including social media and people who want to consume time “that I know I can never get back.”

“When my time comes and God calls me home to glory, I want them to say at my service, ‘This guy gave everything that God put inside of him out on the field. And he left it out on the field helping as many people as he could.’” staff contributed to this report.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.