Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Pride and Peril: Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Diverse Identifies Five Threats Facing HBCUs and Five Opportunities That Could Define Their Futures

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Pride and Peril: Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Diverse Identifies Five Threats Facing HBCUs and Five Opportunities That Could Define Their Futures

Article excerpt

Once a beacon of hope for thousands of Black students denied access to higher education by predominantly White institutions, historically Black colleges and universities have educated generations of Black scientists, doctors, lawyers, educators and social activists. But today, these institutions face serious challenges. Questions of relevance have reached a fever pitch as today's Black colleges work to address declining enrollment, low graduation rates and financial instability. Despite the challenges, however, HBCUs for many Black students--and others--remain the last best hope of succeeding in the higher education arena. As the age-old debate for and against Black colleges rages on, Diverse has identified five threats facing HBCUs and five opportunities that could define their futures.

Threats

1 Prolonged Recession, Funding and Development Issues: When traditionally White institutions catch a cold, HBCUs catch pneumonia. Such is the case with the contagious economic virus that all of higher education is exposed to. HBCUs, like many others in the higher education sector, rely on student tuition dollars, government programs, corporate donations and foundation giving to sustain their institutions. All of these are unreliable revenue sources that point to the need for a stable income source typically found in a sustainable endowment.

The peril of weak endowments and low alumni giving is consequential in the economic environment. HBCU endowment information is hard to come by. lust five schools responded to the National Association of College and University Business Officers Endowment Survey. For those that responded, the average endowment market value was 5244.7 million, compared with an average of $521.9 million for all non-Black institutions. The proposed sale of portions of Fisk University's prized art collection donated by Georgia O'Keefe to raise much-needed cash and the proposal by the Georgia state Legislature to merge financially troubled Savannah State and Armstrong Atlantic State Universities to cut costs illustrate the financial volatility impacting many Black colleges.

2 Getting Them and Keeping Them: HBCUs provide a supportive environment where Black students thrive, but a 2006 Ed Sector report showed that just 37.9 percent of Black students attending HBCUs earn an undergraduate degree within six years, 4 percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for Black students and 7 points lower than the overall graduation rates of predominantely White institutions. The graduation disparity could be a lot worse given the economic and educational disadvantages that often accompany these students, the vast majority of whom qualify for federal Pell Grants. But in a society that is becoming less tolerant of excuses, HBCUs will have to undertake some creative means of addressing the retention problem.

3 New Competition: For-profit institutions have become destination institutions for many Black and Hispanic students. A disproportionate percentage of degrees from proprietary colleges go to Black and Hispanic graduates. In this year's Diverse Top 100, the University of Phoenix "online campus" overtook Florida A&M and Howard universities as the No. 1 producer of bachelor's degrees awarded to African-Americans. While Black students earned 8.9 percent of bachelor's degrees in the United States in 2005, they accounted for 15 percent of the degrees conferred by proprietary institutions, according to data in the National Center for Education Statistics report, "Postsecondary Institutions in the United States."

4 Conservative Ethos/Constricting Campus Culture: Many news accounts have portrayed HBCUs as conservative, traditional institutions that are led by well-intentioned disciplinarians. While the accuracy of such accounts may be dubious, they raise warning points. The value of thoughtful reviews of HBCU campus climates and environments for faculty and students cannot be underestimated. …

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