Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Survey Says ... Black Colleges Need to Complete National Surveys: When It Comes to Understanding Historically Black Colleges and Universities, We Don't Have Good Data

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Survey Says ... Black Colleges Need to Complete National Surveys: When It Comes to Understanding Historically Black Colleges and Universities, We Don't Have Good Data

Article excerpt

An essay about surveys may sound like boring fare. However, when it comes to understanding Black colleges--their strengths and challenges--we don't have good data. There are myriad questions that go unanswered by researchers, policymakers, and Black college administrators themselves that could easily be addressed if Black colleges would participate more fully in national surveys.

Only 13 Black colleges participated in the recent National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) survey, and 23 completed the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey. Failure to participate has a harrowing impact on the way that Black colleges are viewed in the fundraising world--not only by researchers but by potential donors. As a result of not completing the NACUBO and VSE surveys, researchers, donors and policymakers know virtually nothing about Black college endowments and, more important, endowment growth over time. Moreover, they know little about alumni giving at Black colleges. Of course, any fundraiser in the college and university setting knows that donors want to discern if alumni support a particular institution before they make a donation. Stated bluntly, research shows that donors are more likely to give if there is an institutional commitment on the part of alumni.

Why don't many Black college administrators complete surveys? The answer rests partly in the way the research data have been used in the past to criticize and derail the educational mission of Black colleges. A well-known example of the misuse of research data took place in 1967 when two Harvard sociologists, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, conducted interviews with a few Black college administrators and used these interviews to make vast generalizations about Black colleges as a whole, labeling them "academic disaster areas." Because the sociologists were from Harvard and their article was published in the Harvard Educational Review, it was given great credence, with Time magazine and The New York Times running stories touting the research and its merits.

As a result of the national coverage of the Jencks and Reisman study, the very existence of Black colleges, as well as continued financial support, were called into question. Furthermore, Black college leaders felt duped--as if they had provided a well-rounded portrayal of their institutions to the researchers, but all that was represented in the article were the problems and the mistakes. …

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