Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Are HBCUs Obsolete!?!?

I'm a proud HBCU graduate. My southern Negro College engineering school prepared me well for the real world, but perhaps more so, was my first real experience of being in an environment almost entirely run by black folks. This of course had it's pluses and minuses. The facilities were downright meager compared to your typical "white college". As a freshman, my floor of 100+ young men shared three pay phones. The climate controls were an either/or proposition of blasting heat or Arctic level cold. The bathrooms featured prison-style open showers and toilets that worked when they preferred, which is to say, not very often. The dorms were built using the same floorplan as our state penitentiary. The cafeteria food was one step above the stuff I occasionally dole out when I do community outreach at our local homeless shelter. And yeah, there was saltpeter in there, or so the urban legend went.

The odd thing about this is that for someone like myself who never had to "rough it" growing up, these somewhat less than ideal accommodations were bizarre motivating factors to bust my butt in class. I can't speak for other HBCUs, but this lack of pampering, especially when contrasted with the Ritz-Carlton level accoutrements at our rival crosstown public "white college" oddly encouraged spirit and pride in my school. And in some equally odd fashion, it fostered an "us against the world" mentality that caused people to stick together and pull each other up. Besides, the level of instruction and education were world-class. Being surrounded by other brilliant black folks from all around the world broadened my horizons. And since the school is world-renowned for graduating more black engineers than any other any four year college, employers were practically knocking themselves over to cherrypick the best of the best. I graduated with honors, and walked away with my choice of 9 equally enticing offers. Best of all, since I was an in-state resident, my tuition was barely even $800/semester. Can you can "zero student loans"? I can.

Seriously, what's not to like?

The big selling point on HBCUs in the early 90's was that our schools generally had superior retention and graduation rates, and were universally hailed as being more supportive environments for black students. There were the cultural intangibles as well (read: girls and Two to Sixes), but that's neither here nor there. When I walked across that stage on graduation day, you couldn't tell me there was any better educational option for a black student than a quality (key word: quality. they ain't all built alike) HBCU.

Over time, I've changed my tune a bit. Much of this has to do with post-grad exposure to other black folks who went to "white colleges", and the realization that their overall experiences weren't all that different from mine. And an equal amount comes from the realization that after your first real "job" post-graduation, nobody really cares or even asks where you went to college anymore. So, while in the past I might have been pretty dogged in my insistence that my son follow my lead and become a 3rd generation alumnus of my Negro College HBCU, I now realize they're hardly one-size-fits all propositions. Some black folks who might have grown up in more progressive areas may not need the cultural experience. And kids nowadays aren't willing to "rough it". Even though most HBCUs have dramatically improved their facilities, they're still decades behind your typical "white college".

So, my final pro-HBCU argument would be the graduation and retention rates, which used to speak to some level of support that the typical student wouldn't get at a majority institution. But after reading this little tidbit in the Sunday Post, I'm wondering if even that point has merit anymore.

More black students graduate from the University of Virginia within six years than from any other public university in the country, and here's why: institutional commitment, an admissions process that selects strong students, generous financial aid and a network of peer advisers.

Nationally, there's a gap of nearly 20 points between the percentage of black and white students who graduate; just 44 percent of black students finish within six years, according to four-year averages calculated by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, which has found U-Va. to be the leader "by far" among public schools for the past 14 years.

The University of Maryland has in recent years improved its six-year graduation rate, to 71 percent for black students who started in 2000. That's part of a systemwide initiative to improve all of Maryland's public universities' six-year graduation rate for black students, which is as low as 20 percent at Coppin State.

The most recent figure from U-Va., for black students who began college in 2001, is just shy of 90 percent. That rate is lower than those at the top schools in the country (Harvard University has steadily been in the mid-90s) but better than most of the schools U-Va. considers peers, such as the University of California at Berkeley, the University of North Carolina, Cornell University and Vanderbilt University.

The reasons some black students drop out include cost, poor academic preparation from weak high schools, the racial climate and a lack of support because there hasn't been a family tradition of college, according to Bruce Slater, the journal's managing editor.
Truth be told, most of these schools have higher graduation rates because they generally are far more selective about which black students they admit. The mission of the typical HBCU isn't the same as a UVa. HBCUs generally have lower standards of admission, in the name of giving nearly everyone a fair shake at a college education. But even that doesn't explain the paltry graduation rates of some schools like Coppin State, Bowie State, and Virginia Union.

Seriously, I don't want anyone to think I'm dumpin' on my alma mater. I'm not. I give money. I use my management position to help get more alumni in the door at my company. It's an even better school academically now than when I was there. The facilities are vastly improved. It is still dollar-for-dollar one of the best bargains in higher education. Sure, all the sports teams absolutely suck, but hey, you can't have it all. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't choose any other school. But after all these years, I guess I have to ask the dreaded question.

Question: Are Historically Black Colleges and Universities still relevant? Are you alarmed by the graduation rates of some HBCUs? Did you go to an HBCU? If so why? If not, why?

At U-Va., a Dean Making a Difference [WashPost]

Historically black colleges and universities Info [Wikipedia]

28 AverageComments™:

TalentedTenth said...

a little background:

attended a PWI for undergrad for no other reason than receiving a full academic scholarship. i had attended a private school for high school, which drained most of the money my parents had saved for college. thankfully, this high school prepared me such that i could obtain a full academic ride for college.

attended howard univ. for my masters. chose the school for its rich history, school location, and the opportunity to gain an experience different than undergrad.

with that said:

Are Historically Black Colleges and Universities still relevant?

yes, i believe they are for some of the same reasons you noted -- one of the more important being that many of these HBCU's provide the opportunity for college that some students could or would not receive if based on financial reasons alone. in my mind, education is what you make of it...that has been my message to all new high school graduates that i speak to. a student must be proactive in their pursuit of their degree. just like in life, if professors see you making a sincere effort to gain the knowledge, MOST are more willing to help you in reaching that goal.

Are you alarmed by the graduation rates of some HBCUs?

let's start with the fact that i am alarmed at the graduation rates of blacks from high school. there are so many factors that i could name, but space and time will not allow (although the post touched on many of them). it's sad really...especially when one thinks of the sacrifices that were made so we could even get an education.

Symphony said...

I had a little post on my blog about an HBCU that I had to deal with (and I'm not over) so I'm jaded.

I went to a PWI as well and even thought its $44,000 year I too can say zero debt. Thank you White people for my scholarships. Love ya!

Anywho, Florida State also has a higher graduation rate than FAMU located in the same city.

But when its all said, yes they are relevant and often times they will give an opportunity to those who want to better themselves than other institutions.

Poopyman said...

AB, I think you answered your own question.

The mission of the typical HBCU isn't the same as a UVa.

As long as the mission is different, I think there will be a place for HBCUs.

I would just repeat what Talentedtenth has said, so I'll skip that.

I will mention, though, that your description of the dorm and dining hall sounds a lot like what I had at Penn State.

TalentedTenth said...

and speaking of HBCU's...what are your thoughts on the white young man, josh packwood, that graduated at the top of his class from morehouse this past weekend?

i made a comment over at the black snob about his facebook profile pic...not a smart move kid, not a smart move...

Tiffany In Houston said...

Yes, they are still relevant. Yes, I am a HBCU grad (Prairie View A&M University). I went to a PWI for my MBA. I get very heated about this subject so that's all I'm going to say on this one.

the uppity negro said...

to talentedtenth:

Packwood is shirtless in his pic...what's wrong with that? that's been his profile pic on FB for a while.

to the rest:

Well, in light of Joshua Packwood at Morehouse, on my blog, I believe it was the most read blog behind my first one about Jeremiah Wright back in March.

HELL YEAH HBCU's are relevant.

Honestly, you want my throughly honest opinion, I really think the majority of blacks in this country would do very well from doing their undergrad at an HBCU. I don't care what anyone says, but there's something intangible about being forced to deal with "each other" for four years. The fact that for me, that was the firs time since grammar school seeing ALL black people ALL the time from the lowest paid position on campus to the president (save a few white professors here and there) it was wonderful.

I was so blindsided by the HBCU experience that after Hurricane Katrina had left Dillard Univ. under 5 of 6 feet of water in some spots I was ADAMANT about going back to an HBCU. The other white schools across this nation were throwing themselves at us. I had my pick of ANY school, Ivy League or not--and honestly, this sounds real black--my first pick was Tennessee State, lol.

But, I ended up at Fisk University.

Honest answer, after dealing with the comments on my Joshua Packwood story, I'm actually officially done with this debate (but I guess this post will make me officially done). I mean, I don't blame or harbor any ill-will toward those that go to TWIs, especially if they give full scholarships, but I believe the relevancy is for exactly that reason that was already mentioned, HBCU's have a different mission. And this relevancy manifest itself in more intangible ways. There is a sense of pride that being in an environment that celebrates the positive aspects of one's culture--HBCUs provide an atmosphere that say "It's okay to be black" or "It's okay to be an uppity Negro" lol.

And we as black people live in a world where we're constantly defending and taking an apologist stance for our own cultural isms and granted there's a wide strata of people at HBCU's it still brings ALL of us into full communion with each other.

I'm doing my masters programs at an HBCU as well and if Howard Divinity School offered a Ph.D. in my field, I would be right up in D.C. gladly doing their program when all is said and done.

EsheBlue said...

I love my HBCU, I love my HBCU. I went to an HBCU for undergrad (c/o 2006) and a VERY PWI for my masters. I was also able, during my four years to attend a Northern PWI for two semesters (due to a three part racial exchange program and due to Hurricane Katrina). With these experiences I would not trade my HBCU experience for the world. I strongly believe I was academically prepared for any and everything that has come my way and the all around cultural experience and support I was able to get cannot be put into words. Part of what I loved about going to an HBCU is that it gave me the opportunity to stop being the angry black woman representing the entire race--I could be angry and I could be black and I could be a woman but I didn't have to be all three at all times.

While usually the minority community at a PWI is tight and they have their programs, there is just a marked difference in my opinion.

TalentedTenth said...

@ uppity:

i actually like his pic (devilish grin), but i think it somewhat inappropriate for a new goldman sachs employee. that's not the type of image that comes to mind for goldman sachs...you can put whatever you want on your facebook and myspace page, just be ready for the consequences. or at the very least, tailor your page, such that it is more difficult to come up in a search.

blackandmarried said...

Man, me and themom were going to write about this. They are still needed because if nothing else the cultural experience that many will have no other opportunity to experience during their lifetime. For me growing up in one of the blackest parts of the Country it was a big deal so I could only imagine what it was like for someone from a regular (white) area

cjames30082 said...

Obsolete is a tough sell. I loved my HBCU experience but I think I would have loved any college experience. It's time though for HBCU's to step up their game. The main theme I keep hearing on this thread supporting the relevance of HBCU's is that it gives education for those who are otherwise might not get an opportunity to attend a higher education institution. There's truly no reason why an HBCU can't be a college of choice rather than the default. I am overgeneralizing but you get my point.
WHAT we need to do is start capitalizing on what WE do well and generate LOTS of cash while doing it. I know y'all don't want to here it but our angle is SPORTS. We need to start building 100,000 seat stadiums. Get rid of programs like the Political Science department at NC A&T. Yes I said it. USE that money to build a field house, press boxes, weight rooms.
LOOK at the University of South Florida. They moved to 1-A in 2001 and last year they were ranked as high as #2. NUMBER #2 niggas!

This thread exacerbates my new life long mission for black people to be black people and stop trying to be something else. DAMMIT if you can run fast, then run. If you can jump high, the jump. If you can rap, then stay in school.

Lot's of the PWI school realized this along time ago. Take LSU for example, Les Miles is the Highest paid state employee. Not the govenor, not the School president, the Football coach.

WE NEED to GET OUR #$%^&$%#%@ together.

Miss GypsyEyes said...

As a high school student I wanted more than anything to get my deegree from an HBCU(hello? I was a marching band geek who loved Show style bands.) I went directly to one but I allowed my personal life and a nasty roommate to sour me and left after only one semester. A couple of years later I tried again but I wasn't doing it for me, not my major, not going to classes, it was all for what I thought my parents wanted me to do. I later received an Associates at a community college but I always knew that I wanted more. So in January of this year I enrolled at my private Southern Baptist University. Can you say $27,000 a year? BUT I'm happier than I have ever been. I found a school that had a program that it took me years to decide upon, and this school happened to be the only one in my state so by the time I graduate I'll be close to $100,000(or more) in debt but I'll have two degrees and a pride in myself for having finished what I started and and having done so for ME, not my parents, not my grandparents, not to keep up with these morons I graduated high school with (and they are a pretentious bunch.)
So while an HBCU was in my initial plan it turned out not to be feasible. I do belive that they are still relevent, I do believe that an HBCU education is the best education a person could get, but it turned out to not be right for me. Who knows maybe my daughter will change her mind about Yale and go to FAMU instead- she's just 11 she has time.

the uppity negro said...

to talentedtenth:

tis true. with my blog and what not, I've been a little more conscious about what goes up online. Namely because I've seen some facebook pictures and lawwwwwwd YouTube and I say to myself, "YOU must not want to be employed!"


I have two cousins who went to Central state and Livingstone College respectively, and they swear up and down how much of a positive influence it was in their lives. The cousin who went to Livingstone admits that High School didn't prepare him for college. But the professors were top notch; they grabbed him by the neck and made sure he studied. He was impressed with that and the back up he got from the older students.

Ciara said...

I am currently undergrad at an PWI by choice. Personally, I didn't apply to any HBCUs, but I have friends from high schools who did and love it.

Truth be told, our college experiences don't differ that much at all. I complain as much about my facilities as they do lol.

The only thing that I wish I could have is the social aspect. My campus is %14 black, with 3/4 of those students as commuters. Because of this, there is NOTHING going on my campus. No active BGLOs, nothing.

Symphony said...

People seem a lot more supportive of HBCUs online than they do financially.

SheCodes said...

I am not willing to say that HBCU's are obsolete, but truth be told, I would think twice before advising a black young person to attend ANY school that has rotten graduation rates -- whether it was an HBCU or not.

Whatever the purpose is of a college, the primary purpose should be to successfully educate young people -- and if that isn't happening for a lot of their students, they need to take a hard look at themselves, figure out what they are doing wrong, and then fix it.

If I had a child of my own, I would probably send them to high school in the West Indies and then to a culturally diverse college in the USA. Also, if I had to do it all over again, I would seriously consider doing an 'exchange semester' at Spelman or other HBCU, myself.

Tam Tam said...

I did not attend a HBCU. I thought about it, but decided not to. The main reason was cost and location. I was born and raised in California. The out of state tuition rates would have killed me. Also, I was hesitant to move across country at the tender age of 18 to attend a HBCU. I knew two people in high school who chose a HBCU right out of high school. One went to Hampton and another went to Spelman. Both returned after a year and a half/two years. The major reason was cost. The other reason was culture. My friend had MAJOR culture shock going to Hampton. He was so excited to be in an environment that promoted black culture. Compared to area we grew up in and the high school we attended, this was going to be a virtual paradise for him. He wasn't ready for the dark skin/light skin thing, nor the East Coast/West Coast thing. After hearing his stories, which I know is only a small snippet of black college life, I was not too enamoured with HBCUs.
He came home disappointed, but enrolled in a California state school and finished there.

If I had to do it again, I would not attend a HBCU as an undergrad and would choose my alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo again. I would consider a HBCU for graduate studies however.

StillaPanther2 said...

Brother AverageBro..When we were allowed to attend the majority schools...we ourselves diminished the role that the HBCU had held. My alma maters (NCCU/Howard) had about a hundred years of rich tradition. Post-civil rights era started the demise of exclusive attendance which,I feel, diluted that feeling of having something of our own. NCCU went into the State of NC system starting a change in leadership as well as students. At the start, the majority overtook the law school and the numbers of law school students reflected a fast and swift reductions in minorities, with Blacks no longer the majority. This was not to be expected because this period (p-crs) saw most of the things we as a race held near and dear was no longer valued. I dont know if the pride will ever return. My son attended NC A+T and show no sense of history. This concept of pride in anything Black has been met with apathy. Not speaking for the Black race, I rarely see any T-shirts with HBCU. The majority controls our Black elites (academics and sports), so the future is real dim. Just like Martin, I feel so ancient as well as sorry for these "special institutes" are no longer revelant. I married my wife at NCCU 74 so I will always say "no the HBCU is not obsolete"....PS for you "Aggie Pride".. my son said it with no spunk..a sign of the state of the Black race and it race to get "white".

StillaPanther2 said...

Brother AverageBro... I noticed that the reflections of the commenters was generational. I attended NCCU 1972-77 and Howard Med 77-80. Wife attended NCCU 71-75. In those days the white schools were not a given. Therefor we felt that this was ours. A lot of people can't imagine what it feels to have something that was Black and positive because we DID NOT comp[are what we had to the whites. Little known fact is if it was not for atheletics you dissing young people would not be at those "white man ice is colder" schools. Just like Africa... the majority ALWAYS take the best. I do agree with one commenter... I would like for JUST ONE YEAR all the superstud Black atheletes go to HBCU and win those millions that the Black bucks generate for those Florida States and etc. Most doctors STILL come from HBCU. Most Black engineers STILL come from HBCU. HBCU also have a high rate of Black nurses. And one thing a white school cant give you...an educated Black minded women. By the way... how come no one has had an uproar over BET showing a Black institution in such a negative way with so much foolishness. When the white school draw the best and brightest...the first thing lost is your sense of identity.

ebw-educated black woman said...

stillapantheer and cjames make some very good points. HBCU's are still relevant and needed IMO.

Symphony said...

I guess you're not Black enough if you went to the White man's school. I'll take the White man's school any day if it keeps me from Black people who don't like a Black person who doesn't do everything the Black way.

Writeonbro said...

Craig Watkins, the First Black DA in Texas history, is a HBCU grad. Spike Lee, Dr. Ruth Simmons the president of PWI, Brown University several Rhodes Scholars and former Howard University student Shauntay Hinton, Miss USA 2002, are living testimonies to the quality of students that HBCUs can and should continue to inspire and produce.

Black colleges and universities are the last bastions for students of any race, creed or nation who have a will to succeed in life.

It's easy to have great graduation rates when you pick and choose from the cream of the crop.

They must continue to open their doors and embrace those of us whose best efforts result in 3.0 thru 2.0 grades.

Thank God for HBCUs and their professors, who have remained faithful to their calling, their mission and to students with less than stellar achievements, whose earnest desire was to reach their potential.

Thembi said...

As someone who went to a PWI with lots of money and great facilities I have to ask, why are HBCUs so broke? As graduates of HBCUs do you think you and your fellow alums are giving to the same level as PWI alums? If not, why? I'm only asking because this came up in conversation with a friend who also went to a PWI. Neither one of us considered an HBCU at all and resources were a part of that decision.

cube said...

@ Thembi

HBCUs generally didnt get founded with lots of resources, so its no surprise that theyre still playing catchup years later. Most state supported HBCUs get the crumbs left over from your major state PWI's, so funding is always an issue. Alumni giving is an issue, but consider the fact that many PWI have generations of alums to shake down for money. Many HBCUs, where students are often the first in their families to go to college dont have this luxury.

Many schools like NCA&T, Howard, and Hampton have pretty nice facilities. Smaller schools like Barber Scotia, Huston Tilltson, and Edward Waters dont.

The financial "issues" of HBCUs are little more than a mirror of black america in general.

Anonymous said...


At HBCU's there is a culture promoting academic excellence. Ther is a a sense among our students that they have to prove they are as good as anyone!!!

ProblemWithCaring said...


They are useless relics.

UUNIK Talk said...

If HBCU's are obsolete who is to say that PWI will cut off funding/scholarships primarily targeted for Blacks (which they already are doing) and return to the ways of old (Jim Crow). Someone once said that a people who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. This is where we as Black people are. Many of us think that the playing field is level and that there is no need for anything with the word 'Black' attach to it. This is a sign of a sick people. Every ethnic group (outside of Blacks) understand that their history and culture is worth preserving and sacrificing for. Because many of us still think that the 'White Man's Ice is Colder' and that many of us desperately crave to be around them, we abandon the institutions that got us this far and continues to educate the best and brightest of us.

The real issue that many of Blacks are afraid to deal with is power. John Henrik Clarke once said that "The true purpose of education is for the student to be a proper handler of power...anything else is just a waste of time" Many of us 'educated' Blacks are of no use to our communities. We spend most of our productive time making others millions while we settle for crumbs trying to live 'Alize dreams on a beer budget'. This behavior is very relevant amongst the professional Blacks between the ages of 25-40. Besides how is allowing others to teach us and our youth going to make us powerful. IF anything this makes us weaker and more susceptible to more youth imprisoned, more grown males instead of men, more crime, more dysfunctional families, and more disrespect from other ethnic groups. Education is the key, but if you allow someone to tell u who u are and what your worth is then they control the circumference of your actions/behavior.

"Whoever controls the images, controls your self-esteem, self-respect and self-development. Whoever controls the history, controls the vision."
- Dr. Leonard Jeffries

Mwanga said...

Although I went to a private PWI for undergrad and PWI public university for grad, I've been supporting HBCUs since Lou Rawls was singing "You're Gonna Miss My Lovin'" on the telethons.

That said, I'd feel more confident in my position if more HBCU alums actually supported their schools financially. I admire the relationships they developed, but I've heard too many times about how they won't give back because they had to stand in line at the aid office for 3 hours in 1994.

Also, remember in his essay in the book How to Make Black America Better, Tom Joyner pointed out that a lot of the HBCUs should be consolidated as a way of making them stronger. I'm just saying, there's a top tier, then a big drop off...

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