Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors Education at HBCUs: Core Values, Best Practices, and Select Challenges

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Honors Education at HBCUs: Core Values, Best Practices, and Select Challenges

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Educational institutions are fertile environments for shaping, cultivating, and solidifying human development. They are wellsprings for diverse cultures, behaviors, beliefs, and practices. Yet, they face the daunting challenge of fostering the intellectual growth, social enhancement, and professional development of students. Clearly, the tenets of the collegiate environment can directly influence--either facilitate or debilitate--the achievement of its students. This arena is also ripe with shifting paradigms and strategic priorities that often lead to revisioning, redefining, and reassessing. As a result, the educational institution simultaneously becomes a site of struggle and resistance, empowerment and encroachment. Although institutions change, priorities change, and curricula change, students remain the university's most valuable resource and asset.

So colleges and universities must face the difficult questions of how to address the academic, social, and cultural concerns of students; what ought to be the nature and character of the collegiate experience to which students have access; and, more specifically, what can be done to address the needs and unique challenges facing honors students. Successful efforts, whether institution-wide or at the department level, place a strong emphasis on cultivating academically engaging, socially relevant, and culturally inclusive learning environments for honors students. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in particular are increasingly sensitive to the strategic importance of having quality programs for honors students in the context of their current struggle for equity and equality. Even more than Predominantly White institutions (PWis), HBCus are confronted with educational issues that are historically and culturally deep.

Although HBCus play an essential role in fostering intellectual thought and promoting academic, cultural, and social exchanges for its students, the challenges to honors students, staff and faculty are often muted concerns within this domain of academe. With this in mind, the investigators attempted to empirically examine core values, best practices, and select challenges of honors programs and colleges at HBCus. This essay begins by situating HBCus in a historical and social context that provides a richer understanding of the collective struggle of this group of educational institutions. Next, the investigators highlight some of the best practices of honors programs and colleges at HBCus and identify some of the challenges and concerns of honors administrators at HBCus. Culminating this article is a robust discussion of the major findings of this study.

HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT OF HBCUs

Regardless of the vicissitudes of life, education seems to be the common denominator for many Americans. "Education has long been recognized as an important--if not the most important--vehicle through which status attainment and upward mobility is achieved" (Deskin 35). Individuals often view education as "the way out," the key to social mobility, or "the great leveler." African Americans, realizing the value of education and wishing to maximize their opportunity for upward mobility, demand quality education (Schaefer 5). It is thus necessary to give special attention to the development and role of Historically Black Colleges and universities (HBCus) in the historical and social context of educational institutions. As Williams and Ashley note, HBCus, their graduates, and their educators have played an essential role in defining the cultural and political atmosphere of this country and the world, and even more compelling is the "indispensable role the HBCus played in the creation of the U.S. public education system and its massive network of institutions of higher learning" (2).

Prior to the Civil War, education was a privilege afforded to wealthy and middle-class White men (Williams and Ashley 3). …

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