Editor's Comment: How Will President Obama Handle Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

By Toldson, Ivory A. | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Editor's Comment: How Will President Obama Handle Historically Black Colleges and Universities?


Toldson, Ivory A., The Journal of Negro Education


Today, 103 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) educate 135,722 male and 238,685 female students across the United States according to the most recent data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (Institute of Education Sciences & National Center for Education Statistics, 2012). Historically, HBCUs have played a vital role in enhancing the provision of educational opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups. Since the 1830s, they have been instrumental in preparing Black people to make significant contributions to the economic, intellectual, and cultural landscape of the nation. Today, research has demonstrated that HBCUs graduates enjoy greater financial success in their careers (Price, Spriggs, & Swinton, 2011), and U.S. rankings consistently show that HBCUs are among the top producers of students who persist through graduate and professional school (Fletcher, 2013). My own research indicated that HBCUs are clearly superior to predominately White institutions (PWIs) in promoting positive student-faculty relationships and students' sense of belonging among science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors (Toldson & Esters, 2012). Notwithstanding, many HBCUs have suffered financially due to declining enrollment, the economic recession and other fiscal challenges. Federal investment in HBCUs is critical for them to realize their respective missions, achieve long-term financial stability, and develop programs, policies, and practices that promote recruitment, retention, and graduation among the Black students they so diligently serve.

First-Term Accomplishments

On February 26, 2010, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to continue the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Jawando, 2010). Later that year, in September, President Obama affirmed the role that HBCUs must play to help him to achieve his goal of having the United States lead the world among college graduates by 2020 (Sabochik, 2010). He also reiterated his commitment to HBCUs by announcing his plans to increase spending on HBCUs by $850 million over the next 10 years. William Jawando, of the White House Office of Public Engagement, also noted that President Obama's 2011 budget called for an annual increase in spending on Pell Grants; important because 50 percent of HBCU students qualify for Pell Grants (Jawando, 2010). Other federal level accomplishments which will benefit HBCUs include continuing support for TRIO programs and signing an executive order for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Second-Term Hopes

During President Obama's second term, federal action will be necessary for HBCUs to strengthen efforts to recruit, retain, and graduate larger numbers of students. For recruiting, it will be essential for the White House Initiative on HBCUs to work closely with the new White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans to bolster efforts to prepare the 8,550,344 Black children currently enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in the U.S. (Institute of Education Sciences & National Center for Education Statistics, 2012).

From a policy standpoint, the federal government needs to address a the fiduciary responsibility of the state to provide public secondary educational options that meet the basic academic requirements of the same state's institutions of higher education, including public HBCUs. Coordinated efforts between the two White House initiatives could also address the growing trend of guidance counselors at predominately Black high schools advising qualified students to community colleges, and neglecting HBCUs.

From a funding perspective, money allocated to HBCUs should be tied to deliverables that foster greater college persistence among Black students. Specifically, through budget allocations to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, competitive awards should be expanded for HBCU faculty members who actively engage in research with students. …

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