BENJAMIN FRANKLIN University was the first school in Washington to offer courses in accounting. For many years, the university dominated that profession in the District's job market. At one time, 40 percent of the accountants in this city were Benjamin Franklin University graduates. The school was an enormous asset for people who could not afford the cost of a four-year university. But times have changed, and now that venerable institution is preparing to close its doors after 80 years of service.
Benjamin Franklin University, which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in commercial science only, has suffered the same fate as other so-called specialty schools that do not provide courses in various fields of study. In nursing, for example, hospital schools that once trained a large share of the nation's nurses have been closing down because they cannot afford to keep up with changes.
State accountancy boards now require more liberal arts courses. In the fall, only graduates of universities with full academic accreditation will be allowed to take the Certified Public Accountant exams in Maryland and Virginia. More full-time faculty members are also needed, but most of Benjamin Franklin's faculty are accountants or lawyers who teach part-time. University officials say they simply can't afford to hire full-time faculty members and don't have the resources to begin a liberal arts program. One Maryland official said that the new requirements will build the profession's image. Many graduates of Benjamin Franklin University would strongly disagree. They include at least 13 controllers at major firms, 27 company vice presidents or presidents and 54 partners in law firms.
But not every image of the school was illustrious. The university openly refused to accept black students until 1964, when picketing by civil rights leaders forced it to open its admissions.
The university is closing with a sense of dignity. Instead of fighting to stay open, officials are making arrangements to allow their good students to enroll in George Washington University at costs that are much lower than GW's normal tuition. In return, Benjamin Franklin University will donate $900,000 in investments, books and equipment to George Washington. That's a quiet and thoughtful way to close out decades of service to the cit