The nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have served this country since 1837.
They educated freed slaves, offering educational opportunities not afforded to Blacks at White institutions during the days of legally mandated segregation.
Many highly successful CEOs, doctors, entertainers, educators, lawyers, engineers, and politicians graduated from these institutions.
Today, Black students have many more choices—leading again to questions about the relevancy, value and role of HBCUs and their future in a so-called post racial America.
“I don't understand how someone can even question the relevancy of HBCUs. HBCUs are vitally important to the entire spectrum of the educational system in America,” Dr. Julianne Malveaux told The Final Call. She serves as president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.
President Obama has set a goal for the country to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 and publically stated HBCUs are essential to achieving the target. There are 105 private and public HBCUs in the U.S., concentrated mostly throughout the Southeast, servicing over 300,000 undergraduate and graduate students.
"People try to measure the relevancy of HBCUs, but do you factor in that we're receiving a lot of first generation college students? Do you factor in the academic deficiencies coming onto the campus? We service students on Black campuses in a way that other schools don't,” added Dr. Malveaux, a noted economist.
“HBCUs will unfortunately never outlive their usefulness and relevancy until America lets go of its obsession with racism. We have witnessed that racism with the election of President Obama and we're years away from it going away. So, HBCUs are necessary,” said Dr. Lee Jones, a former dean at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.
Dr. Jones also founded the largest organization of Black male Ph.D.-holders called the Brothers of the Academy. “Without the contributions of HBCUs, where would this country be? People cannot overlook the significant individuals that these schools produce every year,” Dr. Jones told The Final Call.
Howard University film student Akilah Muhammad greatly opposes the notion that HBCUs have become extinct. “I chose to attend a Black institution because of my family and it has met all of my expectations. Being here has given so many of us a sense of self,” Ms. Muhammad told The Final Call.
“Those who think HBCUs have lost their impact must not be interviewing students on our campuses. And for those who think that we are missing out on diversity by attending a Black college should come see the diversity that exists within Black students from around the world,” said Ms. Muhammad, who is from Houston.
“There are so many generational stereotypes of Black colleges that are totally false. There are things you get on these campuses you can't get anywhere else, and I'm happy I chose a HBCU,” said Keiser Johnson of Brooklyn, a freshman psychology major at Howard.
“HBCUs are as relevant today as they were at their inception. Students still get a world class education without the burden of diversity that they would find at majority White schools. Plus there is still a great deal of racism,” said Jarrett Carter, a 2003 graduate of Morgan State University.
Mr. Carter's displeasure with how HBCUs have been improperly portrayed in mainstream media motivated him to create the informational website HBCUdigest.com in January 2010.
“We don't tell our stories well enough or consistent enough. We have HBCU graduates doing extraordinary things in science, entertainment, and the arts. But how will we know that if we don't communicate it?” asked Mr. Carter.
Late last year, in a column titled “Black Colleges Need a New Mission,” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Jason Riley argued HBCUs have become ineffective.
“Black colleges are at a crossroads. At one time black colleges were an essential response to racism. They trained a generation of civil rights lawyers and activists who helped end segregation. Their place in U.S. history is secure. Today, however, dwindling enrollments and endowments indicate that fewer and fewer blacks believe that these schools, as currently constituted, represent the best available academic choice,” wrote Mr. Riley.
Members of the National Association for Equal Opportunity responded to the column: The group noted that HBCUs confer 22 percent of all bachelor degrees earned by Blacks, 24 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded to Blacks in science and engineering and nearly 35 percent of all bachelor's degrees in astronomy, biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics.
“The data demonstrate clearly that HBCUs are doing the heavy lifting of educating Black students, especially, in growth and high need disciplines. Increasing numbers of other students who want to attain a degree in a smaller, richly diverse environment, are enrolling and matriculating at HBCUs,” said the group, which represents the interests of HBCUs across the country.
Hampton University president Dr. William Harvey said, “Clearly, historically Black colleges and universities do not need ‘a makeover' or ‘a new mission.' What is needed are major publications, such as theWall Street Journal to conduct solid and sincere research so it can better appreciate the value and contributions HBCUs make.”
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