Black History Month Ignoring HBCUs

ImageIn an article at the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, I found some very disturbing news. Black students attending leading mainstream higher education institutions are graduating at a much higher rate than those who attend HBCUs. Our best and our brightest are attracted to the best schools in the country, while our flagship HBCUs are suffering disproportionate decline. 
Fewer than 15 percent of black college students today attend historically black institutions.

Harvard leads all schools in Black student graduation at 95%
For many years Harvard University, traditionally one of the nation's strongest supporters of affirmative action, has produced the highest black student graduation rate of any college or university in the nation. Harvard's black student graduation rate has increased to 95 percent, the highest among U.S. colleges and universities.

Amherst College, a small liberal arts college in western Massachusetts, now has a black student graduation rate of 94 percent, the second highest in the nation. Princeton University ranks third in the nation with a black student graduation rate of 93 percent. Six other highly ranked colleges and universities in the United States posted a black student graduation rate of 90 percent or above. They are Wellesley College, Brown University, Northwestern University, Washington University, Wesleyan University, and Williams College.

Eleven other high-ranking institutions have a black student graduation above 85 percent. They are Stanford University, Yale University, Dartmouth College, Davidson College, Columbia University, Duke University, Georgetown University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Virginia, and Wake Forest University.

Spelman leads HBCUs in Black student graduation at 77%
The graduation rate of African-American students at the nation's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) tends to be much lower than the graduation rate for black students at the nation's highest-ranked institutions. Yet the graduation rate at a significant number of HBCUs is well above the nationwide average for black student graduations.

By a large margin, the highest black student graduation rate at a historically black college belongs to the academically selective, all-women Spelman College in the city of Atlanta. In fact, the Spelman black student graduation rate of 77 percent is higher than the black student graduation rate at 13 of the nation's 56 high-ranking predominantly white colleges and universities.

Following Spelman in the rankings, the next-highest black student graduation rate among the HBCUs was at Morehouse College and Fisk University. At Morehouse and Fisk, 64 percent of the entering black students go on to graduate within six years. Hampton University, Miles College, Howard University, and Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina sadly are the only other HBCUs that graduate at least half of their black students within six years.

The graduation rate at HBCUs is 42%
The graduation rate of African-American students at the nation's historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) tends to be much lower than the graduation rate for black students at the nation's highest-ranked institutions. Yet the graduation rate at a significant number of HBCUs is well above the nationwide average for black student graduations, which currently stands at an extremely low rate of 42 percent.  At 24 HBCUs - nearly one half of all HBCUs in our survey - two thirds or more of all entering black students do not go on to earn a diploma. The lowest graduation rate was at the University of the District of Columbia, where only 7 percent of entering freshmen go on to earn a bachelor's degree. At Texas Southern University in Houston, 14 percent of entering students complete college.

President Obama helps with White House HBCU initiative
To assist schools with federal funding, President Barack Obama established the White House HBCU Initiative in 2010.

"The initiative is important," Executive Director George Cooper told The Root, "because President Obama wants the U.S. to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Historically black colleges and universities will contribute to reaching this goal because they provide an educational opportunity for about 300,000 graduate and undergraduate students."

Over the last five years, Cooper said, all universities have seen about a 28 percent reduction in support from states. To help fill that gap, he said, Obama would like to see 5 percent of federal resources allocated to HBCUs.

HBCU's have a proud history
Once the destination for our best and brightest, our HBCUs are now being questioned as to their relevance, along with the financial woes they are experiencing. 

I recently read about the history of Virginia State Universitywhere my mother attended college (see The rich history of struggle, achievement and contribution to the march toward academic excellence of African Americans is nearly lost during this month of Black History celebrations.

Most of our people don't know that Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, established in 1837, Lincoln University(Pennsylvania), established in 1854, and Wilberforce University, established in 1856, were established for blacks prior to the American Civil War. Established in 1865, Shaw University was the first HBCU in the South to be established after the American Civil War. Today, there are 106 HBCUs (established before 1964). But more alarming is that In the last 20 years, five HBCUs have been shuttered. Others are teetering on the brink of financial disaster. 
Historically black colleges in financial fight for their future 
Recently, Howard University and Grambling University made news about their respective financial woes. 

"Grambling is emblematic of a bigger problem," Johnny C. Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, toldThe Root. "It's not limited to athletics. Dorms have fallen into serious disrepair. Classrooms are in need of updating, and academic programs have suffered. Some schools have had to reduce faculty and staff. To be blunt, it's the result of years and years of financial neglect. Some of these schools are in need of a major infusion of cash."
"Last spring, Morehouse had to furlough the entire faculty and staff during spring break because of budget issues related to drops in federal funding, especially these Parent Plus loans," said a former chancellor of historically black Winston-Salem State University and the author of Saving Black Colleges: Leading Change in a Complex Organization. "If Howard and Morehouse, two of the most vaunted historically black institutions, are facing major challenges, you have to wonder what's going on elsewhere. It's not a pretty picture."

As we focus on our history during this month, we must not forget the critical role these institutions played, and continue to play in creating ladders of success for our people. These institutions are a part of our history that we can preserve and support. They deserve the attention of our best and brightest -- even those who did not attend one of these schools.

Roger Madison
CEO, iZania LLC