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Local & State

Opportunity and challenges integral to HBCUs’ mission and legacy
They're relevant, but advocates urge more support
 
Published Thursday, April 12, 2018 9:19 am
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | TROY HULL
Historically black colleges and universities have provided education opportunities for African Americans since 1837 with the founding of Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. Today there are 106 HBCUs across the nation, including Johnson C. Smith in Charlotte (above).

First in a series of reports on the past, present and future of historically black colleges in America’s education landscape.


After years as an afterthought, if not outright hostility, Americans are talking about the future of historically black colleges.

Their enrollment is trending upward after a decade of losses spurred by the Great Recession’s impact on African Americans and government finances. Supportive lawmakers in Congress are pushing for greater federal funding. And new research suggest they're integral economic engines on local and national levels.

From 2006-15, bachelor’s degree-granting HBCUs lost 6 percent of their collective enrollment, but since then, they’re surging, particularly after the election of Donald Trump as president and growing perceptions of hostility to people of color.


Black colleges’ reputation as an academic safe space and nurturing environment are leading to a boost in fall applicants at schools like Clark Atlanta University (up 109 percent), Morehouse College (90 percent), Spelman College (82 percent) Howard University (up 32 percent). Charlotte's Johnson C. Smith University reported a 26 percent jump in the 2016-17 academic year, the most recent span reported.

“HBCUs are just real valuable assets to our community, not just to the African American community, but the community at large,” said U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Charlotte Democrat and co-chair of the Bipartisan HBCU Caucus. “We have produced some of the strongest graduates in some of the key areas like STEM, etc. There are 106 HBCUs that enroll approximately 300,000 students annually and that number is continuing to rise for freshman enrollment increases across the board, so we know there is continued interest.”


But changes in American demographics are forcing changes. The pool of traditional college-age students – 18- to 24-year-olds – is getting smaller while more African American high school seniors are opting for non-HBCUs. The rise in popularity of community colleges as an option, paired with economic pressures on less-wealthy liberal arts campuses, makes recruiting and retaining students more daunting.


“The small liberal arts black colleges face the same challenges that [all] small liberal arts colleges are facing,” said Marybeth Gasman, the Judy & Howard Berkowitz Professor of Education and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. “There are the small liberal arts colleges that are the very wealthy and very well-known, and there are the very small liberal arts colleges that are less wealthy and less well-known. HBCUs, by and large, with some exceptions, tend to be a little less well-known and definitely across the board not as wealthy. It's difficult to attract students sometimes because we do have an attack on the liberal arts in our country.”

Creating opportunity
Race and black colleges go hand in hand. The oldest HBCUs, Cheyney University (1837) and Lincoln University (1854), were founded by white philanthropists in abolitionist Pennsylvania. Harris -Stowe State University was founded in slave-holding Missouri in 1857.  Lucinda Humphrey, who opened LeMoyne-Owen College in 1862, was a white missionary sent to Tennessee to open a school for freed blacks and runaway slaves.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, faith institutions like the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and white-controlled Presbyterian congregations opened schools for emancipated African slaves in the former Confederacy. North Carolina is the bedrock of HBCUs with 11 campuses, including the South’s oldest, Shaw University in Raleigh, which was founded in 1865. Bennett College in Greensboro is one of two exclusively all-women black schools.

JCSU President Clay Armbrister graduated the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, but two of his five children are black college graduates. A daughter is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Spelman. His youngest son, who Armbrister described as “a little bit of a challenging student,” graduated N.C. Central University last year.

“One of the factors that HBCUs have is they help students on both ends of the spectrum was that family nature and that supportive environment that HBCUs provide, particularly for students of color,” he said. “HBCUs are relevant today and what I want to make sure is that all the students along the spectrum get that kind of support.”

Funding, specifically the lack of it, is also a recurring theme for HBCUs, which enroll students from lower income families than their better-financed peers.

According to a survey of 65 campuses by National Geographic, the average HBCU family’s income of $64,000 is nearly half the American average of  $115,100. The average African American family’s income is $58,122 compared to $84,143 for all races. As government spending on education continues to evaporate, its impact is exacerbated at black colleges, which have traditionally been underfunded by federal and state governments from Reconstruction and Jim Crow in the South to a conservative-leaning Congress.

“We have traditionally not received the financial support that we should receive compared to non-HBCU schools, so I think that’s one of the things that needs to happen,” said Adams, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at historically black N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro. “We really need to bring attention to that, which we’re trying to do in the Bipartisan Caucus and make things right in that regard.”
Academic and economic benefits

HBCUs’ impact on the nation’s academic and economic health is disproportionate to their size. Black colleges are 3 percent of American nonprofit colleges that receive federal student aid, but enroll 10 percent of African American undergraduates. They award 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by black students and 24 percent of bachelor's degrees to African Americans in the sciences and technology.

They also account for jobs and direct spending in their local economies, generating $14.8 billion in economic impact annually, which is equivalent to a ranking in the top 200 on the Fortune 500 list of America’s largest corporations, according to a November report by the United Negro College Fund.

JCSU, for example, enrolls 1,400 students but generates $89 million a year in Charlotte’s economy, according to the UNCF study. For every $1 spent by JCSU and its students, $1.61 is generated in initial and subsequent spending for the region. The school provides 824 jobs and the school’s 2014 graduating class of 248 can expect total earnings of $629 million over their lifetimes — 77 percent more than they could expect without college credentials.

“The education that HBCUs provide to their students, many of them from low-income families and the first in their families to attend college, helps the national economy fill critical jobs with college-educated workers who otherwise would not acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the evolving workforce,” said UNCF Vice President of Research and Member Engagement Brian Bridges.

Next: Bottom line of academics, demographics and economics.

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Stay focus and do the work thats required to better the situation.
Posted on April 13, 2018
 

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