50 Best Colleges for African Americans: The Right College Environment Can Make or Break an Experience. Here's How to Make Sure Students Choose the School That's Best for Them. (Special Report)
Donaldson, Sonya A., Black Enterprise
TIMES MAY HAVE CHANGED, BUT ONE THING HAS REMAINED constant: Each year, thousands of African American teens and parents will sit down to make the big decision about which college to attend. Typically, families base their choices on several factors: overall cost, financial aid package, location, and the school's academic reputation. For some students, the decision is clear-cut. Yet, families often overlook another essential factor--whether a school is the right fit for the student.
So how do you know which college is best? What qualities should you look for? This article will answer those questions. We've provided help from experts and notable alums of some of the schools that made this year's list of BLACK ENTERPRISE'S Top 50 Colleges for African Americans. We polled graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as those who attended predominantly white institutions to get their take on what makes a school the right one. These alumni, who hail from a wide variety of schools and careers (such as publishing, entertainment, education, and technology), also provide practical advice for students. The idea behind this story is that with the benefit of hindsight and foresight, students will have a broad range of issues to consider beyond cost.
As in the past, this year's list of Top 50 Colleges for African Americans offers a wealth of choices, and we provide tools and information to help families weigh their options. (Be sure to log on to www.blackenterprise .com for additional information, and visit our virtual college campus for tips on saving for college, scholarship information, and more.) This year, the list is more essential than ever. According to Minorities in Higher Education 2001-02: Nineteenth Annual Status Report by the American Council on Education, enrollment of students of color at the nation's colleges and universities rose 48% between 1990 and 1999, with African Americans making up nearly 11% of all college students. Despite this, black students still lag behind their white counterparts in degree attainment. The issue, then, is not simply a matter of being accepted and going to college but also about making sure the school meets the particular needs of a student.
FINDING A FIT
For high school students, the prospect of leaving the nest to fend for themselves is, well, scary. New cities, new people, and new experiences can be overwhelming. Before deciding on a school, it's a good idea to make sure a student knows which kind of environment is best for him or her. While the allure of a large university may be strong because of its name, it might not be the best for a student who flourishes in a small environment. Likewise, a small, suburban college might not be the best fit for a student who is more comfortable in the city. "Different colleges are like different communities," says Carol T. Christ, president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. "It's important for the student to know himself and for parents to know their kid and understand the kind of environment in which he will thrive."
In addition to matching the environment to the student, Christ says it's a good idea for African American students concerned about diversity to look at the ethnic composition of the student body. "Look for extracurricular activities that focus on the students and that provide a way [for students] to meet other African American [peers]," she adds.
Filmmaker Spike Lee (Morehouse, '79) adds that overall diversity is especially important on predominantly white campuses. "Look at the diversity of the faculty, students, and administration. Look at the alumni. Who are the people that the school produces? This is a diverse world, and it's a better learning environment when you have people from every walk of life. It's just a better learning experience."
Bruce Spiva (Yale University, '88) agrees, noting that the diversity shouldn't be just racial. …