Are Lackluster HBCUs Worth Saving?

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During the recession the state of HBCUs presently and in the future has been a hot button topic. Are HBCUs still relevant? Can they compete with traditionally white institutions (TWIs)? Aren’t HBCUs practicing reverse racism? How will they survive with dismal funding? The aforementioned are only a few of the questions that have been posed and pondered on about the state of the nation’s 105 HBCUs. Della Britton, president and CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation joins the discussion in her Op-ed piece on Huffington Post’s BlackVoices. Britton encourages dialogue by asking if educators and black leaders should hold a summit to discuss these issues before it’s too late. She also wonders if the resources dispersed among all of the HBCUs can be used to raise the graduation rates.

If we care about the preservation of HBCUs these are all questions we must not only ask and discuss, we must also work toward solutions. The graduation rate remains at a disheartening 36 percent in six years at 83 of the 105 HBCUs. In addition, it is harder to argue the necessity of HBCUs when the graduation rate for black students nationally is four percent higher at 40 percent. HBCUs bestow as many as 40% of degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM], educate half the country’s black teachers and 40% of blacks in health professions. Those numbers prove the necessity of HBCUs. But we also cannot afford to ignore the very real issues of funding for the students and schools, low graduation rates, need for updated technology and the low rate of alumnus giving back.

From Britton’s “HBCU Blues: America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the 21st Century” article:

Is it fair to single out the nation’s HBCUs when other colleges and universities are struggling as well? Perhaps not, but predominately white institutions are not nearly as dependent on charitable contributions and government funding and, as long as graduation rates remain low, the relative impact of such money on the achievement gap will be minimal, at best putting HBCUs in the crosshairs.

Perhaps even more damning than the dismal graduation rate was the fact that the national college graduation rate for black students generally was four points higher than for students at HBCUs, challenging the deeply held notion that HBCUs are better suited to help black students finish school. Add to this complaints shared by recent graduates of HBCUs and HBCU faculty and staff about everything from excessive teaching loads, to antiquated classrooms and limited technology, and one can’t help but ask the question should the black community be addressing this problem more aggressively?”

Read the full article on Huffington Post BlackVoices.

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