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The value of an HBCU goes beyond statistics
Posted By: Eddie Francis on December 06, 2012

At any given time on the campus of an Historically Black College or University you will find a non-traditional student, someone who enters college after the age of 25. That student may be a full-time working parent who selected the institution because of its affordability or because of the recognition of a particular academic program. What's most important is that this individual will most likely benefit from the academic support, social environment, and cultural competence of an HBCU.

I have been in public relations and marketing in the HBCU environment since 2007 and I have also served in admissions at an HBCU. I am also a graduate of a predominantly white institution or majority institution, as some call them. This commentary has nothing to do with who butters my bread, however. It is about understanding that colleges have specific missions and students benefit from those missions.

The statistics aren't very flattering for a few of the nation's 100-plus HBCUs. Some struggle with enrollment, some struggle with graduation rates, and others struggle with financial issues. These places are not perfect, and there are those badly in need of leadership that will effectively implement higher education's best practices. But statistics, as we know, do not sum up the best that the Black American experience has to offer.

One night I was satisfying my Twitter addiction (follow me @eddiefrancis), and I ran across some great HBCU Tweets from Roland Martin. To paraphrase, he challenged the majority population on its collective questioning of the relevance of HBCUs. Martin, who is also a majority institution graduate, astutely pointed out that if you're going to question the relevance, or even the existence, of HBCUs you have to also question the existence of gender-specific schools, Jewish institutions, Christian colleges, etc.

During the time I have worked for HBCUs, I have noticed something very special. These folks genuinely care. A student may come in questioning his ability to manage math and leaves on a path to becoming a Ph.D. in science. A student enters looking like she just walked in from the streets and leaves looking like a seasoned professional. Just about any college or university can do that for its serious students. The difference is that HBCUs possess the tools necessary to address Black students' specific needs, concerns, fears, and desires. And these professors accomplish these daunting tasks of finding diamonds without judging their pupils in a vast majority of the cases. It's all about helping a student develop the necessary confidence to succeed in his or her career, regardless of his or her academic level.

Whereas I used to question why someone would be a fifty-year-old freshman, I now congratulate those who show the world that it's never too late to take your life to the next level. What I have to question is the attitude of those who seem to easily dismiss how much room there is in the world for places who serve those whose lives and needs are simply different.
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