THEY HAVE RECEIVED dispatches from the educational promised
land, and they are eager for the journey.
They get reports about faculty members who expect them to
succeed, rather than assume that they will fail. They hear
rumblings of a lifelong network of support and shared interests.
They catch snippets about the mystique of merit, a classroom oasis
where race is not a factor. They are told about just plain "fun."
Some black, college-bound students in the St. Louis area have
no doubt that life at a historically black university will usher
them into "a different world," much like the upbeat television
series of the same name.
Some others caution that there is a tad of artificialness at
such schools, that the road through the cultural love feast ends
smack in the same old world - where racism and double standards
test the value of their four-year investment.
If money were no concern and universities were essentially
equal in their program offerings, many black students say the
choice between a historically black college - "where you see a lot
of people who look like you" - and a mainstream university is a
no-brainer. But students say their individual goals and the cost of
higher education muddy the waters.
By many accounts, the nation's 117 historically black
universities - which emerged from the wellspring of segregation -
are enjoying a surge in enrollment and influence.
From the fall of '91 to the fall of '92, publicly funded black
universities had an enrollment increase of 4.5 percent, with more
than 164,000 students attending. Enrollment figures for fall '93
are not yet available.
Malik El-Amin, a senior at Hazelwood East High School, sees a
bit of a trend factor in some students' interest in historically
"Some people do it, like they do everything, because it's
popular," he said.
But, El-Amin points out, "black colleges are more successful
now. . . . They're actually producing good engineers, good business
people, good everybody. So you have all these successful black
people who have come out of black colleges.
"People now understand that they're of the same quality, if not
better, than lots of white schools. But I wouldn't go to a black
school just because it's black. If it's not going to help me, if it
doesn't have the good programs, then you're just black, but you
would not have got a good education."
William Dailey, another Hazelwood East senior, has applied to
five universities, including the University of Missouri at Columbia
and Howard University, generally considered the most prestigious
black school, in the nation's capital. His heart is set on Howard.
"Since I reached the eighth grade, I have wanted to go to
Howard," he says. "It was partially reputation, and I also saw it
was an opportunity to be around more black people."
The importance of being in an educational environment in which
black students feel comfortable cannot be minimized, Dailey said.
"I know that people have the argument that if you go to a black
college, you won't be ready for the real world, but that's all I've
been in . . . so I'm ready for a change."
El-Amin plans to major in industrial engineering and is looking
at North Carolina A&T, a historically black school, and the
University of Oklahoma. As is often the case, financial help
available at black colleges may not equal the aid available from
"A&T has not told me quite how much they're going to give me,"
El-Amin said. But, if it can give him enough help to keep him out
of debt, he said he'll go there.
"The (majority) schools are not centered around us," he said.
"Their focus is on white people. The education, the curriculum is
focused on white people. If you go to a black school, there is
going to be more focus on black people. You kind of have to dig and
find some things about yourself when you're at a white school. …