Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Could End of Affirmative Action Be Boon for Black Colleges?

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Could End of Affirmative Action Be Boon for Black Colleges?

Article excerpt

As the Supreme Court prepares to once again consider the constitutionality of affirmative action in higher education, I have been struck by many questions. What if the court further restricted or even banned the use of affirmative action at public colleges and universities? What would be the effects on diversity? Would there be a re-segregation of public higher education akin to what has happened on the K-12 level? If so, would this re-segregation benefit historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)?

For HBCUs, integration has been somewhat of a double-edged sword. On one end, the integration of the nation's schools and public spaces highlighted the vital role that HBCUs played in educating African-Americans. The lawyers and others who led the fight against segregation were educated at HBCUs.

However, the broadening of opportunity afforded by integration disrupted what had essentially been a protected market for HBCUs. Prior to integration, HBCUs had a legally-imposed niche that ensured a steady influx of some of the nation's most talented students. Through the 1950s, virtually every Black person who wanted a college education attended an HBCU because there were few other options. But the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 brought about a decline in the proportion of Black college students who attended HBCUs.

Brown, decided in 1954, set the stage for the eventual integration of all-White public universities by rendering segregation in public education unconstitutional. Building upon Brown precedent, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed segregation and discrimination in all public spaces. The act prompted, even forced, many all-White universities to actively recruit Black students. In doing so, these schools used, with notable success, financial incentives largely unavailable to HBCUs. In the early 1960s, about 70 percent of Black college students were enrolled at HBCUs; by 2000, that proportion had declined to about 20 percent.

Integration introduced a level of competition for Black students that had been previously unseen--particularly those with strong credentials. No longer could it be taken for granted that a Black student would enroll in the HBCU nearest his home. HBCUs were required to compete with predominantly White institutions (PWIs) for students, and the legacies of underfunding and discrimination often placed HBCUs at a grave disadvantage. …

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