A Different World Enrollment Is Up at Historically Black Universities, Where 'Fitting In' Isn't an Issue

By Courtney David Barrett Of the Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 29, 1994 | Go to article overview

A Different World Enrollment Is Up at Historically Black Universities, Where 'Fitting In' Isn't an Issue


Courtney David Barrett Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


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 black universities.

"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 mainstream universities.

"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. …

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