I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Black College Need a New Mission,” and my immediate thoughts after reading it were outraged and perplexed. How could The Wall Street Journal allow such an article to be published without being properly vetted? Who would write such an inflammatory article while citing data that is nearly forty years old? While I cannot answer the aforementioned questions, I am resolved in saying they are baseless and unfounded general assumptions that are probably the opinion of mainstream America.
Riley’s article stated a number of inconsistent premises throughout its entirety. For instance, he mentioned how HBCUs are not ranked among the ‘selective’ institutions with regard to student admissions by the American Council of Education. Yet, to be more accurate, are there similarly positioned Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) that are not ranked as selective institutions? Unquestionably! Riley also fails to add that fifty percent of African American faculty in traditionally white research universities received bachelor’s degrees at HBCUs.
Let us take this example into consideration, three of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund member institutions in the state of Mississippi were suggested to close or merge to save the state money. The three schools were Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, and Mississippi Valley State University. If merged they would only save the state approximately $35 million dollars. The state has a budget shortfall of approximately $500 million, so what is the rationale? Further, the ramifications of such a merger could possibly diminish the contributions of young black gifted and talented students, who desire a different type of atmosphere and approach to their educational process. Many of whom we draw upon to serve as doctors, lawyers, educators, and global leaders as all three of these institutions have produced.
Unfortunately, if we [HBCUs] redefine ourselves and develop a “new mission,” what institutions will replace the many accomplishments of our HBCUs? Riley thinks the University of Phoenix should – an institution that only graduates merely 1% of their enrollment. According to statistics compiled by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, these HBCU’s represent 4% of the 2,600 plus American colleges and universities, yet HBCUs conferred over 22% of all degrees awarded to African Americans. With only 13% of African Americans in higher education, these colleges awarded nearly 30% of all undergraduate degrees earned by African American students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines; 50% of all bachelor’s degrees in teacher education received by African American students; and 85% of Doctor of Medicine degrees acquired by African Americans.
Riley also wrote about President Obama’s pledge to invest $850 million in the nation’s 105 black institutions, and completely failed to compare HBCUs with other schools of their size and nature. However, he conveniently compared them to the most elite of colleges and universities in the country. He continued to grossly compare our schools with the public and private, well endowed, PWIs, which in many cases were raising money and resources some two hundred years before the first HBCU came into existence. I believe the President’s mission is to give HBCUs more access to the tools that society deem necessary for us to simply compete. I might add by taking a point of personal privilege, that in spite of the meager resources that many of our HBCUs have, they have produced at extraordinary measures. By the way, if the commitment from the President of $850 million to HBCUs is dispersed equally among the 105 schools, each school would get roughly 8.1 million spread out over ten years ($800k annually). Mr. Riley needs to gain an understanding of why the President is planning to invest in HBCUs, for if we don’t embrace every genre of higher education initiatives seeking ways to educate more Americans, our nation will continue to fall farther behind the rest of the world. Furthermore, it would make the President’s lofty goal of becoming the global leader in producing college graduates virtually impossible if he and America fails to invest and support these gems of higher education.
To gain more insight on college choice, I surveyed a few of my students and colleagues at Livingstone College. I posed them with basic questions such as, why did they choose an HBCU as opposed to a PWI or why Livingstone College versus a PWI. Next to the ones who chose their institution of choice, simply because of familiarity, be it a family member or pastor; the majority chose the HBCU path of higher education for the cultural experience and the family-like environment. It seemed as though they received or are on the path of receiving a type of quality education that I never experienced; the type of experiences that cannot be duplicated on any campus other than that of an HBCU. Not only do these institutions create environments which foster great learning experiences and are steeped in tradition and excellence, but they produce Noble Peace Laureates, Astronauts, Fortune 500 Leaders, and Pioneers in medicine, legislation, judicial affairs, and in every facet of life that impacts our daily lives. Simply put, we need HBCUs!