Black Colleges Matter – Newsweek

A graduate cries during a prayer at Howard University’s 2014 graduation ceremonies in Washington, D.C. Black colleges are facing tough times as endowments shrink and African-American students enroll elsewhere. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS


Medgar Evers College, an overwhelmingly black branch of the City University of New York, sits atop a hill in central Brooklyn. It is across the street from the mustard-colored high-rises of the Ebbets Field Apartments, named for the long-gone baseball field where the Brooklyn Dodgers played until 1957, and where Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947. Medgar Evers is a cluster of newish glass-and-brick buildings that radiate competence and promise. The college’s crest shows the scales of justice, a lamp and a pair of hands struggling against shackles.

Medgar Evers is not one of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) discussed by journalist Ron Stodghill in his new book Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America’s Black Colleges and Culture. Its plight, however, aligns almost perfectly with the ailments Stodghill diagnoses at those paragons of black scholarship in the South and the Midwest, where the vast majority of HBCUs are located. Medgar Evers may not be the equal of Howard University, but if Stodghill is right, both schools are heading down the same perilous path, taking black aspirations with them.

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As is often the case at HBCUs, many students at Medgar Evers are the first in their families to attend college. Few Evers students, however, graduate: According to U.S. News & World Report, its four-year graduation rate is only 4 percent, about five times less than the average at non-flagship American public institutions (some of this may be because of the school’s open admissions policy). Overall, no HBCU had a graduation rate higher than 70 percent as of last year, with Spelman (69 percent) and Howard (65 percent) coming closest. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, which compiled the statistics, found that the bottom half of HBCUs had a graduation rate of no higher than 34 percent. This may be in line with public flagship universities (36 percent), but below the Northeastern colleges whose equals the HBCUs have long aspired to be. Yes, the HBCUs graduated the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison and Oprah Winfrey, but whom are they graduating today?

Not only are fewer students graduating HBCUs, many fewer are choosing to attend them. HBCUs made much more sense in 1925 than 2015, when a top-notch black student may find herself choosing between, say, Spelman, Oberlin and Cornell. What can Spelman offer her that the predominantly white institutions can’t? As recently as four decades ago, Stodghill writes, some 80 percent of black students attended an HBCU; today, that figure is a mere 9 percent.

Colleges without students do as well as airlines without passengers, and as black students snub HBCUs, HBCUs face the first true existential crisis in their collective history. St. Paul’s College, in Lawrenceville, Virginia, has closed; Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, has sold off half its stake in an art collection left to it by Georgia O’Keeffe. Morris Brown College, in Atlanta, was stripped of its accreditation in 2002 and was limping along with only 35 students last year.

HBCU administrators often take the blame, though the ship rarely goes down from captain error alone. At Medgar Evers, President William L. Pollard was ousted two years ago, accused, as the The New York Times put it, of acting “without an appreciation for the institution’s history.” Among his early transgressions was “switching the campus automated teller machines from the black-run Carver Federal Savings Bank to Citibank,” according to a Times report on his tumultuous first year. His appeals to long-term planning and cost-cutting were met with suspicion from those who loved the place with all its imperfections. “The administration is out of character with anything we need,” one professor complained.

That same year, Howard President Sidney A. Ribeau was forced to resign for strikingly similar reasons. The Washington Post noted that his departure came in an autumn of developments that “many Howard boosters found dispiriting: a drop for the university in a major national ranking and a downgrade in its credit rating. It also came a year after enrollment at the university suddenly fell 5 percent.” He was accused of enriching himself and top administrators while starving the university. Stodghill capably chronicles the school’s troubles, from the missing Academy Award of Hattie McDaniel to the recent travails of the university’s hospital, a fabled institution that once treated freed slaves but whose $37 million annual losses were responsible for a downgrading of Howard’s credit rating in 2014.

Most Americans are only marginally concerned with the state of higher education, but Stodghill argues that the decline of the HBCU is a national crisis, not just a black one, and that we should all care. “It is hard to imagine a single greater threat to the future of African-Americans than the demise of its higher education system,” he writes. Stodghill, who is African-American and teaches at an HBCU in North Carolina, isn’t downplaying the issues of discriminatory policing and excessively punitive criminal justice that, others would argue, are far more threatening to the prospects of black America. He argues, instead, that HBCUs are the “main artery connecting to the heart of black America.” Sever it, and the race cannot survive.

The nation’s first college for African-Americans began in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth (today, Cheney University), about 20 miles west of Philadelphia. Most HBCUs, though, were founded during Reconstruction “to educate some half-million newly freed slaves,” Stodghill writes. Howard University was founded in 1867 and has long been sustained by a congressional appropriation, now totaling $223 million per year. All-men’s Morehouse College was founded that same year, in Atlanta, while all-women’s Spelman College was founded in 1881 next door. Together, the three formed a sort of mini Ivy League for black students who wouldn’t be allowed into those great patrician colleges of the Northeast. The Harvard Man had an equal in the Morehouse Man.

The most famous HBCU, though, may be a fictional one. In 1987, A Different World premiered on NBC, introducing the nation to Hillman College, attended by Cosby Show scion Denise Huxtable. Stodghill argues that the show “did more to attract black college kids to black campuses than those ‘A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste’ public service announcements ever could.” While acknowledging the recent grave accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby, he describes the embattled actor as one of the nation’s most vociferous (if sometimes hectoring) proponents of black intellectualism. The $20 million gift Cosby and his wife made to Spelman in 1988 remains an act of unrivaled generosity in the HBCU world.

“If we can tithe for our churches, we can tithe for our schools,” Spelman’s president at the time said of the gift. But that hasn’t happened. The Cosbys’ largesse aside, HBCUs don’t attract large philanthropic gifts. This may be because many of those who attend HBCU come from less wealthy households, but that doesn’t explain it all: Some psychological hesitation is obviously at work. When the musician and entrepreneur Dr. Dre donated $35 million to the University of Southern California in 2013, many saw it as a betrayal of his people. “I can’t help but wish that Dre’s wealth, generated as it was by his largely black hip-hop fans, was coming back to support that community,” lamented the president of Dillard University in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

The head of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund quips to Stodghill that “our funding comes from Republican rich white guys and their wives,” an apparent reference to the $25 million gift from the Koch brothers to the United Negro College Fund in the summer of 2014. This clearly dismays Stodghill, who calculates that “HBCUs boast 2 million living alumni; if 2 million graduates pledged even a hundred dollars a year, HBCUs could build endowments all over the country. But for some reason, blacks refuse to fund our own schools.”

The federal government hasn’t made life for HBCUs easier, adding stricter credit rating requirements to the crucial Parent PLUS loan program in 2011 while also reducing by six semesters the length of Pell Grants, on which close to 90 percent of HBCU students are estimated to rely. If neither the private nor the public sector will rescue the HBCUs, who will?

One administrator tells Stodghill that “the HBCU president has the toughest job in higher ed. We’ve got the same expectations, but not even near the resources of the people you’re competing with.” Brown, the poorest of the Ivies, has an endowment of $3.2 billion; Howard, the wealthiest of the HBCUs, has an endowment one-fifth of that, $586.1 million.

The intellectual value of an HBCU education is coming into question too. The old “teacher and preacher” model of instruction, which recalls an antiquated black culture, is out of sync with the demands of the 21st century. Stodghill talks to a Morehouse professor who laments that “most HBCUs curriculums today do not emphasize discussion and debate.” The professor says he has his students approach classroom work “like an Ivy League school,” the implication being that many of his peers do not.

Stodghill, who’s never particularly optimistic in his book, points to an estimate that there will be only 35 HBCUs in 2035, down from 104 today (some put the number at 106). Of those, Stodghill writes, only 15 will be “actually thriving.” The rest will continue to shrink, consolidate or close, disappearing eventually from the landscape of American higher education, taking a vital part of our shared national history with them.

Perhaps the HBCUs’ decline is a sign that our society truly is becoming post-racial. Note that neither America’s first African-American president nor the first lady have ties to an HBCU: President Obama went to Columbia, his wife, Michelle, went to Princeton. In fact, many of the nation’s most prominent African-Americans also have ties to the Ivy League: Shonda Rhimes (Dartmouth), Loretta Lynch (Harvard), John Legend (Pennsylvania), Neil deGrasse Tyson (Harvard), Eric Holder (Columbia).

“One of the byproducts of racial segregation,” Stodghill writes, “was that black colleges enjoyed a critical mass of really smart students and really bright teachers whose options were also limited.” To romanticize segregation is an odd position, but Stodghill isn’t the first to wax nostalgic for a fiercely ambitious black cultural unity in the face of a prevalent white hatred.

Today, that kind of unity isn’t necessary and, in fact, may be seen a sign of weakness or parochialism. Like the Lower East Side Jews of earlier generations who spurned “the Harvard of the Proletariat” that was the City College of New York for the actual thing in Cambridge, Ivy-bound blacks like those aforementioned wanted to—and did—prove themselves in the highest echelons of the white establishment.

Yet an argument for HBCUs remains. According to the UNCF, black colleges produce 70 percent of all black dentists and doctors, 50 percent of black engineers and public school teachers, and 35 percent of black lawyers. And while HBCUs account for only 3 percent of the nation’s colleges, they account for about 20 percent of the degrees awarded to African-Americans.

There is a less quantifiable argument too. When, several months ago, video emerged of fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma singing a racist chant, it offered a stinging reminder that just because black students are allowed into predominantly white institutions, they are not always welcome in them. Stodghill writes of one black corporate lawyer who was raised in relative privilege in the 1980s and went to the University of Michigan, only to transfer to Florida A&M University, an HBCU in Tallahassee. When asked later what it was like to attend FAMU, he answered, “Probably what it feels like to be a white dude at the University of Michigan.”

This article is part of the Newsweek High School Rankings series. Read more:

America’s Top High Schools 2015 | FAQ | Methodology

FILED UNDER: U.S., College, Colleges and Universities, Education, Higher Education, High Schools 2015


HS Students Get Paid for Grades…LOOK! HS Students Can Now Earn Money for College — No Job Required – CNN Money

SEVERAL HBCU’S ARE ON THIS LIST!  WE NEED MORE TO JOIN IN! is in on this and very excited about it!  In the process of gathering more information to report on current HBCU participation and how HBCU’s can partner with this scholarship source.  More to come!  Until then, LOOK..!

How one high schooler made $80K (without getting a job) – CNN Money Sep. 18, 2015 developed a program that allows high school students to start banking college scholarship money.

What’s the catch?

The money is tied to students’ individual achievements. The better they do in school, the more engaged they are with their communities, the more money they earn from’s college partners.
There are 76 colleges on’s platform, including Penn State, UMass and Tulane. cofounder Preston Silverman hopes to increase that to 100 colleges by the end of the year.
As long as students meet the college’s GPA requirements, they can start earning money from as many as they choose — between $500 to $1,000 per achievement. Students don’t get the money until they are accepted to one of the colleges.


Related: This is how you make math fun

Abby Saxastar raised $80,000 on, which will fully cover her tuition at Stetson University, a private college in central Florida.
“I’ve always been very successful in school and I’ve also done a lot of volunteer work,” said Saxastar. “But I still had to figure out how to pay for college.”

Saxastar learned about the program a few months before she graduated high school in June, but the program allows students to retroactively include information. So even as a senior, Saxastar could log her grades and activities for the past four years.

“My family is digging through some debt and taking out loans for my other expenses,” she said. “So getting this scholarship has been amazing.”

Related: The White House likes these colleges best

Saxastar is one of 60,000 students from 5,000 high schools who have signed up with since it launched in August 2014. The startup has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook (FB, Tech30).
Colleges committed a total of $1 billion in scholarships in the first year, but Silverman said there isn’t data on how much of this was actually paid out to students. The goal is to make scholarships available to students who may not otherwise pursue them.

“Most scholarships today are awarded at the very end of high school. It’s too late to influence a student’s college search and application process,” he said.

Silverman said colleges are on board because it helps them reach students much earlier in the selection process.

Related: Here’s the difference between you and the class of 2019

Beatriz Zayas is head counselor at the Southwest High School in El Centro, California, a city on the border with Mexico and Arizona. It’s a predominantly rural area, and 90% of the 2,100 students are Hispanic.

“A high percentage are from low-income families, but we’re hoping they will become first-generation college students,” said Zayas.
. could become a critical part of that. There are 60 students at Southwest currently enrolled in the program. Zayas said they opted to focus on a small International Baccalaureate class first, in order to provide the necessary support.
“It’s putting good colleges on the radar of families who wouldn’t have known about them otherwise,” she said.

Although doesn’t target a specific demographic, Silverman said 49% of students on the platform are from low-income families.

A few colleges, including Florida International University, are even offering scholarships specifically to these students.
The university plans to partner with this year to target low-income Florida high schools.

“With many first-generation families, their socioeconomic barriers prevent them from taking advantage of a lot of things,” said Luisa Havens, vice president of enrollment services with Florida International University. “ is perfect way to give them access to opportunity.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of colleges currently using’s platform. There are 76, not 26.
CNNMoney (New York) September 18, 2015: 1:52 PM ET

via How one high schooler made $80K (without getting a job) – Sep. 18, 2015.

Stage Set for Showdowns Over Potential Contraction of HBCUs

Stage Set for Showdowns Over Potential Contraction of HBCUs

July 21, 2014 | Category: Featured,News | :

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by Pearl Stewart
072214_HBCUsAround the same time lawmakers in the North Carolina State Senate recently floated the idea of closing historically Black Elizabeth City State University, the United Negro College Fund reported that the Koch brothers, who routinely support Republican candidates and right-wing causes, had made a $25 million donation to the UNCF to help struggling HBCUs.

Although financially ailing Elizabeth City State won’t benefit from the Koch money because the UNCF only supports private HBCUs, both situations focused attention on the plight of numerous Black institutions, especially smaller schools facing dwindling financial resources and enrollment declines.

Last September, the University of North Carolina System reported that Elizabeth City State faced a shortfall of $5 million, and UNC President Tom Ross warned that “hard decisions” were ahead.

At the time, ECSU’s enrollment for the fall 2013 semester was just over 2,400 students, a decline from about 3,300 in 2010.

Then, in May, a provision in the State Senate draft budget proposal called for possibly eliminating “small, unprofitable” institutions, specifically citing ECSU. Within hours, the blowback from Black legislators, alumni and community leaders was so strong that the Senate voted unanimously to drop the provision.

It was just the latest jab in what has become a perennial joust by lawmakers in various states, typically Republicans, recommending closing an HBCU or merging it with another institution. In 2010 then-Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi brought up merging that state’s HBCUs. Swift reaction, involving marches and demonstrations, ensued. When the president of one of the institutions, Jackson State’s Ronald Mason Jr., also proposed a “unification” of the campuses, he quickly became persona non grata and soon thereafter announced his departure.

Despite the uproar in Mississippi, Mason crossed the state line and within months was named president of Louisiana’s historically Black, five-campus Southern University System, where Gov. Bobby Jindal has also made known his preference for mergers and consolidation.

Looking to consolidate

In recent years, lawmakers in several states have raised the subject of closure or mergers or involving HBCUs, only to be drowned out by various constituents of the institutions.
However, consolidation has become acceptable among non-HBCUs. For example, the University System of Georgia has merged eight college campuses into four to save money. But suggestions that Georgia’s historically Black Albany State be merged with predominantly White Darton State have been vehemently opposed by students, faculty and alumni from both campuses.

Yet some Black institutions continue to slide downward, making the loss of accreditation a reality, which in itself could trigger closure. South Carolina State was placed on probation in June by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which cited numerous issues, including financial instability and conflicts of interest on the governing board.

The probation only exacerbated the school’s plight. In April, a state Inspector General’s report had concluded that SCSU diverted $6.5 million in targeted program funds for operating expenses. A few weeks later, SCSU President Thomas Elzey sought $13.6 million from the state legislature to pay its bills. The Budget and Control Board approved a $6 million bailout.

Like Elizabeth City State, South Carolina State’s enrollment has steadily declined in recent years, to approximately 3,100 in spring 2014.

One legislator who voted against the bailout, Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, said, “We’ve got an institution that’s bleeding to death, and a Band-Aid is not going to solve the problem.”

Although he voted against the aid, saying it didn’t solve anything, Leatherman put together a group of current and former presidents of South Carolina’s public colleges to come up with a plan to help the school become solvent.

Johnny C. Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), says state legislators are taking a new approach to handling troubled HBCUs. “They’re saying, ‘We’re not going to talk about closing HBCUs, and having people call us racists. We’re going to give you so much money, and that’s all you’re going to get.’ … You asked for $14 million and we’ll give you $6 million. Best of luck to you.’”

He says it’s time for HBCU leaders to have their own discussion about closing or merging flagging institutions “before others make the decisions for us. Yes, it’s controversial, but we need to do it.”

Despite the unpopularity of his unification plan in Mississippi four years ago, Mason still says he believes such proposals have a place in the discourse about the future of HBCUs. “There is a new reality in higher education,” he says.

Mason notes that “HBCUs used to have 100 percent of the Black market, (and) now we have around 10 percent.

“Higher education in general has to rethink its business model, but the need to change is especially acute at HBCUs.” He contends that “consortia or system approaches” are models that should be considered. “Numbers don’t lie, and the numbers say that we have to adapt to survive and ultimately thrive.”

But TMCF’s Taylor says adapting to the times won’t be easy. “People have become almost maniacal about it,” he says. “You can’t even bring up these topics. As someone who supports HBCUs, I think some of these conversations need to begin happening.”

Taylor uses examples of shuttered schools such as Virginia’s St. Paul’s College, which closed last year after losing its accreditation. Leaders of St. Paul’s and North Carolina’s St. Augustine’s University — both affiliated with the Episcopal Church — discussed a merger in the final days of St. Paul’s existence, but it was too late to save the school and St. Augustine’s was having its own financial problems at the time.

Taylor also cites the private Wilberforce and the public Central State universities, which he noted were once the same school, in Wilberforce, Ohio. “Could these institutions be stronger as one than they are as two? That’s a conversation worth having,” Taylor said.

Examination needed

John Garland, a former president of Central State and current president-in-residence at TMCF, suggests that more analysis is needed. “When you really look below the surface, you’ll see historic underfunding,” he says.

Garland notes other factors, including deficiencies in public K-12 education and required use of “performance-based funding metrics,” are hurting public HBCUs, which have a mission to serve disadvantaged students.

“If you say we need talk about closing or merging schools, it presumes the outcome,” Garland says. “It constricts and inhibits the discussion and people won’t participate.” However, he says he “absolutely” believes it’s time for a more serious examination of the future of struggling HBCUs.

Despite differences of opinion, Taylor says there is agreement among HBCU leaders that a key element in the challenges facing HBCUs has been the U.S. Department of Education’s changes to the Parent PLUS Loan program, which made it more difficult for lower-income families to qualify.

Alumni and other supporters pointed to the historic inequities in funding and program investment for all five of North Carolina’s HBCUs, compared to the state’s predominantly White universities. ECSU, in particular, benefited from this support; the legislation that put it on the chopping block was dropped from the budget, giving the school another shot at survival.

Meanwhile, South Carolina State’s outlook remains uncertain. Its bailout of less than half its request was aimed only at paying its bills through July 1. Leatherman, the bailout’s chief opponent, said, “How does this university operate past July 1 if all we’re doing is getting them to July 1? We’ll be right back to where we are.”

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HBCU Stakeholders List Financing Programs, Affordability as Top Issues – Higher Education


HBCU Stakeholders List Financing Programs, Affordability as Top Issues

Category: Black Issues,Featured,News | 

by Autumn A. Arnett

Dr. Earl S. Richardson, president emeritus of Morgan State University, says that the failure of President Obama to “address the issue of equity in funding for the Black colleges and equal opportunity for the students they serve is (an) abomination.”

Many in and around the historically Black college and university (HBCU) community recently have publicly pondered the state of the institutions as a whole—and much of the narrative has not been positive. Between a dearth of confidence in leadership, a lack of advocacy at all levels, and local problems such as declining enrollment and concerns over institutional ability to compete in an ever-changing higher education landscape, much of the public discourse about HBCUs has been less than optimistic about the future viability of these institutions as a whole.

“It’s very di­fficult to think about HBCUs as one unit, because they’re so vastly different,” says Dr. Ivory Toldson, deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. “There are some HBCUs that are really standing out and some HBCUs that I’m really concerned about.”

However, overall, Toldson says, “I’m optimistic about the future of HBCUs in general.”

But this general optimism is not a sentiment shared by all.

Dr. William Harvey, president of Hampton University and chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, decried the lack of support from the federal government on behalf of HBCUs in a September speech in Washington, D.C. In his remarks to open the White House Initiative on HBCUs’ annual HBCU Week, Harvey said, “We face enormous challenges. These are difficult times for our institutions, our students and their families.”

HBCUs’ statuses

In the 2014 State of HBCUs Report, a survey of 105 HBCU stakeholders, including 28 current and former presidents and administrators, listed financing university programs as the top challenge faced by the HBCU community, with affordability and insu­fficient leadership/governance running close behind.

An early draft of the 2012 annual report on the participation of HBCUs in federal programs suggests that funding to HBCUs has experienced a downturn, compared to all institutions of higher education, in recent years.

In 2007, HBCUs were awarded $1,253,719,673 in grants from federal departments and agencies, compared to $34,936,125,000 overall—3.59 percent of all funds awarded. Following a boost in 2008 to 3.74 percent ($1,376,998,620 out of an overall $36,776,779,000 awarded), there has been a fairly steady decline in federal funding to the HBCU community (with the exception of 2011) through 2012, the most recent year for which data are available.

According to Harvey, the impact of this trend has been felt on HBCU campuses.

“Federal support for HBCUs is showing an alarming downward trend, and our friends in Washington need to know that we are watching and counting,” he said in September. “… Over the last several years, all of the major Title IV programs had modifications and adjustments, which make it much harder for HBCUs to get funding. We all know of the Parent PLUS debacle that resulted in these loans to our students being down.

“Pell grants to our students are down. Direct loans to our students are down. Graduate subsidies were eliminated. In addition to student support, overall support to Black colleges is down. All of these changes had a significant impact in terms of availability of funding for students.”

Toldson says that many of these decreases in funding are the result of cyclical economic changes felt by the entire nation.

“In many ways, HBCU funding mirrors the economy, which was falling off a fiscal cliff near the end of the Bush administration, recovered through stimulus and reinvestment at the beginning of (the) Obama administration, however, has yet to make a full recovery,” Toldson says. “I’m hoping that we can get those numbers moving in a positive direction, but as we examine the last five years, we need to look at the highs and lows to get the best perspective.”

But many in the HBCU community have been disappointed by the Obama administration’s lack of advocacy on their behalf. Several HBCU stakeholders have mentioned the wish that the president would take a firm, vocal stand in favor of HBCUs, similar to the one he has taken on community colleges. Of those surveyed for the State of HBCUs Report, 38.5 percent say they believe the president “means well, but doesn’t get it” and an additional 35.6 percent say they don’t believe HBCU issues are on his radar at all.

“The failure of (the) president to address the issue of equity in funding for the Black colleges and equal opportunity for the students they serve is (an) abomination and its impact will be multiplied many times over,” says Dr. Earl S. Richardson, president emeritus of Morgan State University, and a supporter of the Maryland HBCU lawsuit, which was filed in 2006 on behalf of Maryland’s public HBCUs: Morgan State University, Coppin State University, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Bowie State University.

The suit asserted that the state had failed its obligation to make its HBCUs comparable and competitive to the traditionally White public institutions in the state.

“That indifference has now spread to the various federal agencies, corporations, foundations and other philanthropic organizations,” Richardson says. “The result is a shift in funding from the HBCUs to traditionally White institutions to educate minorities and to conduct research on Blacks and the Black institutions. … It threatens to do irreparable damage to the reputation and cause of both HBIs [historically Black institutions] and the Black community as a whole. This administration seems prepared to fight the cause of everyone but Black people.”

Indeed, 47.1 percent of those surveyed say they’d like to see stronger advocacy from the president on behalf of the community. But the blame does not stop with the president himself; 58.1 percent say they’d like to see stronger consideration of HBCUs from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and 70.5 percent would like stronger advocacy on their behalf from the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Stronger representation

Encompassed in the lack of advocacy at the federal level is what many in the HBCU community believe is a lack of representation at the policy table. Of those surveyed, nearly two-thirds, 66 percent, say they believe HBCU leaders are often excluded from broader conversations about higher education. An additional 23 percent say that there is a seat available but HBCU leaders do not take full advantage.

“Only select private HBCUs are asked to engage in federal policy conversations,” says Dr. Cynthia Jackson-Hammond, president of Central State University in Ohio. Jackson-Hammond’s sentiments are similar to those of others surveyed.

But, Jackson-Hammond says, some of the onus is on the HBCU leadership. Saying she believes that HBCU leaders do a great job of communicating the challenges and triumphs on campus when asked but do not do well at initiating communication, Jackson-Hammond says some of the burden is on HBCUs to better tell their stories.

“Traditional HBCUs must be more engaged in telling (their stories) of performance and excellence. When resources are limited or restrictive, the focus for institutions is to simply ‘get the job done.’ The focus has not been on touting the accolades of the institutions,” Jackson-Hammond says.

Harvey agrees. “Now more than ever, we need to support our own institutions and let our voices be heard,” he said in Washington in September.

Some would argue telling the stories is easier said than done. Sixty percent of survey respondents say they don’t believe HBCUs have numerous outlets and channels to make their voices heard on a national level. And even among those that agree that the channels exist, there are questions about the extent to which HBCUs leverage them. Lack of a unifying message, for instance, is one issue.

“While there are numerous options for HBCUs to project their voices, there is lack of coordination that will be necessary for HBCUs to effectively ensure their continued viability as a unit,” says Bartholomew J. Worthington III, an Oakwood College alumnus.

But, as Toldson notes, it is difficult to rally around a unifying message when the needs and conditions of the schools vary so greatly. ­The plight of state schools—which are facing decreased state funding almost across the board, particularly in states like Louisiana and South Carolina—is different than that of their private counterparts.

Some schools, like Xavier University in New Orleans, have reinvented their value proposition to position themselves as more competitive. A select few others, including Wilberforce University, are fighting accreditation battles.

Survey respondents are torn on whether they believe HBCUs should have to reinvent themselves to compete. Forty-eight percent say no, but 36.3 percent believe it is a necessary move to ensure future competitiveness in the broader landscape.

Dr. James A. Anderson, chancellor of Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, says HBCUs “need to engage in a strategic planning process that defines what it means to be competitive and relevant in the 21st century.”

Among respondents, 20.7 percent believe that HBCUs should tweak the emphasis on serving primarily Black students, 13.8 percent believe that the schools should tighten admissions standards to admit fewer students with what may be considered lower academic potential and 29.3 percent believe that “specializing” in a specific discipline, rather than being so broadly liberal arts focused, could help boost HBCUs in the current landscape.

Jackson-Hammond says she believes that a combination of these things is important. She says that the schools “have a responsibility to preserve [their] historical context of perseverance, excellence in providing quality academic, collegiate experiences and being completely unapologetic for (their) past, current existence or (their) future.”

“Institutions whose mission is to serve the politically, socially (and) economic underserved do not need to apologize for that mission,” she says. “Out of those institutions have come more minority physicians, teachers, engineers, attorneys, entrepreneurs, political and civic leaders, and community change agents.”

At the same time, Jackson-Hammond acknowledges that “HBCUs historically were steeped in liberal arts and, within the last 20 years, the shift has been toward increasing academic programs in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and agriculture, which are primarily driven by (the United States’) need to be more competitive in the world market.”

The challenge for these institutions, Jackson-Hammond says, “is the perception of being myopic in (their) mission and vision.”

Most people fail to recognize that “HBCUs were never exclusive to one race, culture or ethnic group, but opened to the underserved,” continues Jackson-Hammond. This included anyone who sought “to enrich their lives through academic experiences, and who had the desire to increase the economic, social and moral fabric of their families.”

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Why the U.S. College Landscape Still Needs HBCUs | Matthew Lynch, Ed.D.


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Why the U.S. College Landscape Still Needs HBCUs

Posted: 01/15/2015 9:39 am EST Updated: 01/15/2015 3:59 pm EST
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It’s no secret that Black and other non-white students in the U.S. have always faced an uphill struggle when it comes to education. Even today, the achievement gap between white students and their peers of color is wide.

What are now called Historically Black Colleges and Universities were at one time the only route many young scholars could take to obtain a college degree and elevate their lifestyles. This is not to say that these HBCUs were second-rate; the education received at these establishments has always rivaled that of institutions without the same label, producing such graduates as Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison and Spike Lee. Traditionally, HBCUs have also had a strong alumni presence, with the great minds of the graduates giving back to the institutions that taught them so much.

What was once a role built of necessity has slowly disappeared, however. The civil rights movement, affirmative action initiatives and more recently, the popularity and legitimacy of online degree programs, have all chipped away at the core reason HBCUs were developed in the first place. Declining enrollment has unsurprisingly led to a domino effect, reducing the resources available to students on-campus, and making the HBCU experience less attractive to students choosing between a plethora of higher education options.

There are standouts, of course — HBCUs whose reputations have sustained them through the changing landscape of Black college education in the U.S. Atlanta liberal arts powerhouses Morehouse College, often referred to as the “Black Ivy League,” and Spelman College continues to attract the top talent in the country to their programs. Morehouse boasts an 83 percent freshman retention rate while Spelman is the largest producer of black graduates that go on to medical school (of all U.S. colleges).

For every Spelman or Morehouse, however, there is a Saint Paul’s College, forced to close its doors in 2013 after an unsuccessful merger attempt and unsustainably low enrollment figures. Atlanta’s Morris Brown College filed for federal bankruptcy protection after finding itself $35 million over its head.

Not surprisingly, these headline-grabbing instances and others like them have called HBCUs to the table. Are these colleges still a necessity in the growingly accepting and diverse American culture? Do these colleges help their students reach graduation effectively? Why, when considering all the other educational options available to students of color, should an HBCU be chosen? Are these schools still relevant?

Despite the struggles of some HBCUs, I think that these institutions are actually more relevant than ever — and for a larger pool of students than ever before. Instead of closing the door on these schools or questioning their relevance, the educational community should be encouraging them to remain open, and for more reasons than one.

Safe havens for students of color

Though traditionally “white” schools now accept students of color, they often do not do enough to ensure that those students, particularly first-generation college attendees, have the resources to make it to graduation. With some exceptions, retention, mentoring and cultural programs often do not exist on non-HBCU campuses. Though subtle, racism still exists on non-HBCU campuses too. HBCUs have always provided more than the curriculum in a textbook, or the expertise of the professor in the classroom. They have been safe havens for young adults, struggling with the demands of a college education and to rise above the insidious inferiority complex society places on them. HBCUs don’t just include students of color out of obligation; HBCUs encourage, strengthen and celebrate Black and other minority students. Even though “times have changed,” HBCUs still remain pillars of holistic creation of students who succeed not only academically, but in every aspect of their lives.

How HBCUs can stay relevant

For HBCUs to keep their doors open, and their educational offerings relevant in an increasingly competitive higher education market, they need to keep one foot grounded in tradition and the other pointing forward. By “tradition,” I do not mean that they need to hold on to the exact practices of the past, or foolishly cling to a culture of exclusion, but I believe the purpose of HBCUs should remain steadfast: providing student-centered experiences with strong academic backgrounds.

While it is certainly impressive to make “top” lists in academic areas, HBCUs have a secret weapon when it comes to student retention, graduation rates and lifelong success and it lies outside what is in the textbooks. Can HBCUs survive without strong academic performance, and a competitive staff of the leading scholars in the nation and world? Of course not. But I’d argue that even with those things, HBCUs cannot survive without remaining grounded in the student-focused, “under our wings” mentality that have always made them a different sort of college education — one that is fulfilling on many levels beyond what is printed on a transcript.

HBCUs should also continue to embrace a spirit of diversity, particularly outside its traditional student body demographic. Black students should not make up the entire student body — or even a majority of it. Students from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds should be welcomed in — The first-generation college students looking to elevate their family status. The student immigrants who are still assimilating into U.S. culture. The underdogs from every race, creed and color who need that extra bit of encouragement in a close-knit environment to accomplish their educational aspirations. It is this pool of students who have the highest potential to be innovators and to step outside their comfort zones to build a better future for themselves and our country. HBCUs can play that pivotal role in getting these students to that point.

So while the historical part of HBCUs should stay in the past, the future of these institutions of higher learning depends on leading through a diverse example that puts student needs above all else.

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Why the U.S. College Landscape Still Needs HBCUs | Matthew Lynch, Ed.D..