On Thursday, during a town hall meeting at McKinley High School in Baton Rouge, La., President Barack Obama fielded a question from a Southern University student who asked the nation’s Commander-in-Chief for his advice about attending a Historically Black College or University versus a traditionally White college.
“… Mr. President — I’m going to an HBCU institute — Southern University. Most times, when I go recruit off of high schools, most of the time a lot of them say, oh, I don’t want to go to an HBCU college; I feel like if I go to an HBCU, I won’t get as many opportunities as a student at university as LSU or Tulane. So what is your take of — or advice to students like me, thousands of students like me who go to HBCUs, and us finishing the course in order to be great leaders in this society?”
“Well, first of all, the role of the historically black colleges and universities in producing our leadership and expanding opportunity — training doctors and teachers and lawyers and ministers who change the landscape of America — I hope most people know that story, and if not, you better learn it. Because it has been powerful and continues to be a powerful tradition.
And I will tell you that if you have done well at an HBCU and graduated, and you go to an employer and are making the kind of presentation you make or a Morehouse man makes or a Spelman young lady makes, you will do just fine. I don’t think it’s true that actually people don’t take — or discount that tradition. And you will be credentialed. You’ll succeed.
I do think that there’s a range of challenges that HBCUs face. Some are doing great; some are having more difficulty. And some of that’s good. Look — or some of it is the result of good things. We don’t live in a society where African Americans are restricted in what colleges they can go to. And I want them to be able to go to an LSU or a Tulane as well as a Southern, as well as a Morehouse, as well as a Howard or a Spelman. So more opportunities open up — that’s good.
We have been very supportive of HBCUs over the last several years. And to their credit, the previous administration had supported them, as well. There are some HBCUs that are having trouble with graduation rates. And that is a source of concern. And what we’ve said to those HBCUs is we want to work with you, but we don’t want a situation in which young people are taking out loans, getting in debt, thinking that they’re going to get a great education and then halfway through they’re dropping out.
Now, some of it is those HBCUs may be taking chances on some kids that other schools might not. And that’s a positive thing, and that has to be taken into account. But we also have to make sure that colleges — any college, HBCU or non-HBCU — take seriously the need to graduate that student and not load them up with debt.
On Friday’s edition of TV One’s NewsOne Now, Roland Martin and a panel of guests discussed Pres. Obama’s response to the Southern University student’s question.
Lezli Baskerville, President and CEO of NAFEO (National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education), took issue with Obama’s statement, saying it’s “contrary to the data.”
“Twenty-two HBCUs are doing a better job than most American colleges or universities of graduating students,” Baskerville said.
“With regard to the rest of the HBCUs, if you look at the demographic of African-Americans that are going to HBCUs, disproportionately low-income, first generation students — the growing populations of the nation — if you look at that same African-American whether he or she is at an Ivy League, flagship or any other institution, HBCUs are doing the best job of any other college and university with regard to graduation rates.”
Baskerville added, “President Obama missed a tremendous opportunity to tell the story of the currency of HBCUs and the destiny — HBCUs are three percent of American colleges and universities, they’re graduating 40 percent of African-Americans in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; 60 percent of African-American health professionals — they are doing it at a lower [monetary] rate than any other college or university.”
Watch Martin, Baskerville, and the NewsOne Now panel dissect the rest of Obama’s remarks about HBCUs in the video clip above.
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