|Founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1886, Shorter College was a logical and pragmatic response to the need of recently freed slaves to overcome the many disadvantages and deprivations of slavery and racial discrimination. This was a time, little more than twenty years after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, when black people had no access to institutions of higher learning. In fact, the prevailing attitude was that Blacks had no capacity for learning and the vast majority lacked basic education and skills. The church seized the opportunity to provide instruction leading to a general education, but also aimed at developing competent leadership among Black people.
In November 1886, under the leadership of Bishop T.M.D. Ward, the Arkansas Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, less than twenty years after it was organized, formulated a plan for establishing an institution of higher learning. No doubt this was influenced by the years Nathan Warren, the founder of the African Methodist Church in Arkansas, spent in Xenia, Ohio at the time Bishop Daniel Payne was President of Wilberforce University. When it opened on September 15, 1886, the school was housed in the basement of Bethel A. M. E. Church and Broadway and was named Bethel University. Its first session opened with an enrollment of 109 students.
In 1888, Bethel University was moved to Arkadelphia, Arkansas and renamed Shorter University in honor of Bishop James Alexander Shorter, organizer of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Arkansas. On May 18, 1894, Shorter University was chartered. In the meantime, buildings and land were acquired in North Little Rock and the University maintained operations in both locations, finally terminating its operation in Arkadelphia and establish a new site for the College permanently located in North Little Rock in 1898. At present the campus covers three and one-half blocks with eight buildings and is very valuable property.
On August 14, 1903, the charter was amended to change the name of the institution to Shorter College. This significant action represented an unmistakable commitment to a permanent location. As funds became available, buildings were erected and the scope of its offerings broadened, at one time providing theological, vocational and liberal arts programs as a four-year college. But, in the absence of careful planning and with limited funds, it soon carried too heavy a financial burden.
Shorter College's open door policy was of great benefit to the African American population across the state and later, Oklahoma. The majority of clergy and lay leaders in the Twelfth Episcopal District graduated from Shorter College and later, Jackson Seminary. Other educational institutions in the state were closed to African Americans. And in the event the student was not prepared for college work, special remedial courses were offered.
In 1955, a decision was made to operate the college as a two-year institution. The controlling institutional goal was to develop and maintain programs and services characteristic of a first rate junior college. Its two priorities were development of a physical plant designed to support its instructional program and goals, and an administration capable of ensuring institutional effectiveness and adherence to the institution's goals.
In May 1955, Shorter College began operating as a two-year institution under the leadership of President Theophilus D. Alexander and Bishop William R. Wilkes. The college continued to expand and by 1980 new buildings included a cafeteria, a new administration building, library, student center and the F. C. James Human Resources Center, which housed an auditorium. During the administration of Dr. W. Dean Godlsby, ground was broken for the Henry A. Belin-Health-Plex, which housed the Gymnasium. It was completed by Dr. Katherine P. Mitchell, the first woman to be elected President, and 1996; the Alexander-Turner Child Development center was also constructed.
In 1981, under the leadership of President John L. Philips, the college was granted full accredited by the Arkansas Council of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Junior Colleges and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. This accreditation enabled Shorter College to compete for students who could then transfer easily to four-year institutions. In the years following, many attempts were made at in proving the administrative effectiveness of the institution and shaping its programs to meet the needs of students. However, in 1996, during the administration of Dr. Katherine P. Mitchell, the College would continue to provide educational services and career programs for its students under the auspices of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The Board of Trustees has indicated its resolve to reapply for accreditation within the next two years.
Shorter College once supported a very active athletic program, which was the pride of the college community as well as the city of North Little Rock. For two consecutive years the Bulldogs, under the direction of Coach Charles Baker, won the state championship in the two-year college division. However, the program had to be suspended in 1998.
The institute on is supported fully and actively by the African Methodist Episcopal Church locally and nationally. By Charter, its 33-member Board of Trustees drawn primarily from the churches in Arkansas and Oklahoma, is chaired by the Bishop of the Twelfth Episcopal District. Presently, the Chairperson of the Board is Bishop Frederick Hilborn Talbot.
Shorter College has a rich heritage. It represents the understanding of the church's mission in the world and a deep commitment of the church to this mission. Its own mission is to pursue excellence in its instruction. Dr. Irma Hunter Brown, a 1958 graduate of Shorter College was named Interim President of Shorter College. She was elected president in 1998.
Dr. Brown's tenure as president can be described as an exercise punctuated by creativity and institutional survival. Coming to the college when it was on probation by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges and having been audited by the United States Department of Education in the spring of 1997, the challenge was awesome. With the eventual loss of accreditation and federal funds, restoration and revitalization of assets was paramount.
An agreement with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was forged so that students could still take accredited courses on the Shorter College campus. The course offerings in Regulatory Science and General Education have grown in demand and student enrollment has increased each semester.
Certificate programs in higher education were created and have been accredited by the various agencies; Medical and Nursing Assistant Programs, computer programs, specialist, basic computer, management programs, Child Development Associates. All of these programs were career oriented and designed to prepare students for the work place in shorter periods of time.
Planning was essential so the school family developed a Strategic Plan that will help to guide the college's future for the next five years. Under Dr. Brown's leadership the college liquidated a 1992 debt to the U.S. Department of Education to reduce 1.6 million dollar indebtedness, that liability has been resolved. The focus of the administration has been to correct the deficiencies of the college and to prepare for application for reaccredidation. Dr. Brown helped to write the mission and vision of Shorter College and for four years she worked to make it a reality.
The Board of Trustees, drawn primarily from the churches in Arkansas and Oklahoma, has consistently supported the institution. Regular financial support is also provided by the denomination, as well as by local churches in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Although its accreditation was withdrawn, the College will continue to provide educational services and career programs for its students under the auspices of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. The Board of Trustees has indicated its resolve to reapply for accreditation within the next two years.
The Board of Trustees named Dr. Cora D. McHenry acting president of Shorter College in April 2001 following the resignation of Dr. Irma Hunter Brown on March 1, 2001. Dr. McHenry had been serving the College as vice president for institutional Development since March 2000. She was charged with the task of working with a Board established transition committee to assure a smooth transition from the past to a new administrative. At the time the college was in crisis reeling from the loss of accreditation, residuals of a negative image resulting from an internal political struggle and a staggering financial burden. Academically, few courses were being offered and student enrollment was at an all time low.
In May 2002, the Board of Trustees elected Dr. McHenry to President, ending a national search. She brought to the position several years of executive and management experience. The Board of Trustees and the administrative set out on a two-phase program of revitalization and implementation of the newly adopted strategic plan. Phase one focused on retiring old debts, repairing physical facilities and reorganizing and streamlining the administrative structure.
Phase two included (1) a new fundraising campaign to increase enrollment, offer additional financial assistance to degree preparation students and to increase the number of full-time instructors (2) a strategic student recruitment program to attract students from the Delta and other underserved areas of the state. (3) The organization of a strong alumni base of support (4) building partnerships, and (5) expanding the College's financial base by actively pursuing funding from major corporations and philanthropist.
During the period 2000-2004, three of the four buildings that were closed due to their poor physical condition were returned to full services. A financial aid program with a student work-study component was instituted. A major indebtedness to the Internal Revenue Service was satisfied. Payment agreements were reached with, several major local creditors and state agencies. The number of career development offerings grew from three to ten areas and a strong database of available properly credentialed instructors was established.
Two major goals drove and continue to drive the activities of the college during this period. The first is to assure that the college begins each school term with an increased student population. The second and continuous goal is to complete the process of reaccredidation by the commission on Higher Learning of North Central Association of Schools and Colleges and to seek accreditation by Transactional Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. On May 12, 2007, Shorter College was proud to award associate of arts degree in General Studies its first graduating class of 2007 since losing its NCA accreditation in 1998.