HBCUs are more than ever challenged as why they should exist in the first place. My colleague and friend, Dr. Earl Richardson, President Emeritus, Morgan State University, Dr. Mary Evens-Sias, President, Kentucky State University and others went before Congress to make the case as to why HBCUs .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzsz2yiW4-8
However, whether we feel there is a valid reason as to why HBCUs as they benefit all races, religions and national origins, there are a number of reasons why we will see the disappearance of a substantial number of this proud and historical institutions over the next ten years.
Once a beacon of hope for thousands of Black students denied access to higher education by predominantly White institutions, historically Black colleges and universities have educated generations of Black scientists, doctors, lawyers, educators and social activists. But today, these institutions face serious challenges. Questions of relevance have reached a fever pitch as today’s Black colleges' work to address declining enrollment, low graduation rates and financial instability. Despite the challenges, however, HBCUs for many Black students – and others – remain the last best hope of succeeding in the higher education arena. As the age-old debate for and against Black colleges' rages on, we've identified five threats facing HBCUs and five opportunities that could define their futures.
1. Prolonged Recession, Funding and Development Issues: When traditionally White institutions catch a cold, HBCUs catch pneumonia. Such is the case with the contagious economic virus that all of higher education is exposed to. HBCUs, like many others in the higher education sector, rely on student tuition dollars, government programs, corporate donations and foundation giving to sustain their institutions. All of these are unreliable revenue sources that point to the need for a stable income source typically found in a sustainable endowment.
The peril of weak endowments and low alumni giving is consequential in the economic environment. HBCU endowment information is hard to come by. Just five schools responded to the National Association of College and University Business Officers Endowment Survey. For those that responded, the average endowment market value was $244.7 million, compared with an average of $521.9 million for all non-Black institutions. The proposed sale of portions of Fisk University’s prized art collection donated by Georgia O’Keefe to raise much-needed cash and the proposal by the Georgia state Legislature to merge financially troubled Savannah State and Armstrong Atlantic State Universities to cut costs illustrate the financial volatility impacting many Black colleges.
2. Getting Them and Keeping Them: HBCUs provide a supportive environment where Black students thrive, but a 2006 Ed Sector report showed that just 37.9 percent of Black students attending HBCUs earn an undergraduate degree within six years, 4 percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for Black students and 7 points lower than the overall graduation rates of predominantly White institutions. The graduation disparity could be a lot worse given the economic and educational disadvantages that often accompany these students, the vast majority of whom qualify for federal Pell Grants. But in a society that is becoming less tolerant of excuses, HBCUs will have to undertake some creative means of addressing the retention problem.
3. New Competition: For-profit institutions have become destination institutions for many Black and Hispanic students. A disproportionate percentage of degrees from proprietary colleges go to Black and Hispanic graduates. In this year’s Diverse Top 100, the University of Phoenix “online campus” overtook Florida A&M and Howard universities as the No. 1 producer of bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans. While Black students earned 8.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the United States in 2005, they accounted for 15 percent of the degrees conferred by proprietary institutions, according to data in the National Center for Education Statistics report, “Postsecondary Institutions in the United States.”
4. Conservative Ethos/Constricting Campus Culture: Many news accounts have portrayed HBCUs as conservative, traditional institutions that are led by well-intentioned disciplinarians. While the accuracy of such accounts may be dubious, they raise warning points. The value of thoughtful reviews of HBCU campus climates and environments for faculty and students cannot be underestimated. Wholesome and welcoming environments at HBCUs were the stock of legends and huge selling points in attracting students and faculty. Today, many Black institutions continue to impose conservative policies that have long since lost their appeal, such as setting curfews, meddling in student media and limiting support for faculty research and expression.
5. Fear of Impending Doom: Black institutions on the brink of closure, such as Morris Brown, and those facing accreditation woes, such as Paul Quinn, continue to make headlines. As one account after another emerges, the fear of self-fulfilling prophecies usurps reality. But only a relatively small number of these schools have suffered irreparable damage. While some have had negative encounters with accreditation agencies, the vast majority have survived and often thrived. Unfortunately, these incidents can serve to erode enrollment and morale while also giving opponents ammunition to question HBCUs relevance in this so-called ‘post-racial’ era.
Safe Place: At the 20th-anniversary luncheon of this publication in 2004, Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole challenged a large gathering of Black educators to seriously consider how difficult it would be today to build a network of over 100 colleges dedicated to primarily educating African-American students. Everyone conceded that it would be nearly impossible. HBCUs provide refuge for Black students to define their place and identity in American society. Instead of being vehicles for diversity as “underrepresented minorities” at majority schools, Black students are simply students at HBCUs. These schools serve as sources of pride and affirmation for thousands of alumni, friends and supporters from around the world. At a time when the threat of marginalization looms large in the psyche of many African-Americans, these schools are strategically positioned to become the focal point of the African-American community in many new and important ways.
Decoders of Disparities: HBCUs have the propensity to lead higher education in disparity research. Research that documents racial and ethnic health disparities can play a key role in understanding and eliminating such disparities. The major funding organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, have struggled for decades in trying to get at the root causes of racial disparities. A key player could and should be HBCUs. Take the qualified teacher disparity that is closely tied to the achievement gap: Even a cursory review of the statistics indicates that HBCUs are the nation’s premier institutions for graduating Black teachers. Yet these programs continue to be underfunded at the state and federal level.
Specialty Programs: HBCUs can be the pipeline for science, technology, engineering, mathematics and teacher education, considering they already do the bulk of the work. While composing about 3 percent of the nation’s 3,688 institutions of higher learning, the 103 HBCUs annually produce 23 percent of African-American bachelor’s degree and 13 percent of all master’s degree recipients, according to recent statistics. Spellman and Bennett colleges produce over half of the nation’s Black women who go on to earn doctorates in all science fields; Xavier University ranks No. 1 nationally in sending African-Americans to medical school. HBCUs that develop specialty programs can cement their place in the higher education arena by becoming the go-to institutions for in-demand talent.
Access: HBCUs can expand educational access and opportunity to underserved populations, particularly Hispanics. Additionally, HBCUs should tap into the market of students who start out at community colleges. HBCUs, which disproportionately serve students from low-income communities of color, can provide greater access to other underserved students in the Hispanic community. St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, founded in 1898 by the Episcopal Church as a sewing school for Black girls, and has evolved into a comprehensive public community college with a for-credit enrollment exceeding 10,000. Hispanics make up the largest ethnic group on campus, and St. Philip’s, part of the Alamo Community Colleges District, is now the only college to be federally designated as both a historically Black college and a Hispanic-serving institution. The missions of Black colleges must evolve to serve a larger population of students.
Global Influence: HBCU students and faculty continue to carry the torch of academic excellence to other countries, building linkages throughout the African Diaspora and expanding the global impact of Black institutions. Florida A&M University President James Ammons signed an agreement with a Canadian organization that will allow FAMU students to intern in Cairo, Egypt. Howard University’s chapter of Engineers without Borders served communities in Kenya and Brazil this year. Spellman students helped to build a library for the 10,000 Girls program in Senegal.
Based on reading your article entitled "The threats to and survival of HBCUs," I have concluded that those in positions of power have placed a knife on the jugular vein of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Those that advocate and fend for HBCUs must keep pushing forward now more than ever. These are not the times for one to bury their heads in the sand and give up.
HBCUs are national landmarks. Yes, that is exactly what they are and should be treated like so. They came about when this nation treated Blacks as if they were "less than anything human." Think about it - a people socially despised, economically deprived, no houses, no land, no cars, no material possessions, no nothing but God almighty on there side, sent forth to "make it with nothing in a society dominated by landownership."
What the folks are really saying when talking about this subject is that 147 years of freedom in America is long enough for Blacks (that number comes from subtracting 1865 from 2012). That's being generous. Suppose they're really saying that 47 years is long enough (that number comes from subtracting 1965 from 2012). The background behind both the 1865 and the 1965 dates is well known.
HBCUs were established on less than what we call today "set aside resources." Look at how those in power have dismantled all such support programs today. Why would I think that the very folks that said Blacks have gained enough in this country after a mere 47 years would do anything less than also say that institutions that have help lift up so many of the disadvantaged in America would not also now say that they, i.e., HBCUs," have outlived there existence? It does not bother me that the majority race would say this. Its expected based on historical legacies in America. What is pitiful and bothers me most is to have Negroes, Blacks, African Americans, many of whom got their start on the back of HBCUs, who now crawl from underneath rocks and repeat such nonsense themselves.
As Founding Executive Director of Science and Engineering Alliance, Inc. (known as SEA), I will continue until the end, to shout from the mountain tops of America and anywhere else in the world the opportunity lends itself, that the discussion about HBCUs should not be how to dismantle these national treasures, but instead how to perpetually fund them like the U.S. Federal Treasure perpetually funds every one of the nations white 1862 Land Grant Institutions and so many others. Please visit the SEA website: www.sea2.org.
"Why HBCUs should exists in the first place," the question is asked? Because while there maybe other children from disadvantaged backgrounds that will need such institutions, you can bet your bottom dollar that its a certainty there are African American children that haven't even been born yet who will need these institutions to provide for them what they provided for their ancestors in days passed and gone.
At SEA, we will continue to focus on the "opportunities" portion of the dialogue.
Robert L. Shepard, PhD
Founding Executive Director
Science and Engineering Alliance, Inc. (SEA)
Wednesday, July 11th 2012 at 12:07PM