AFRICAN AMERICANS AND THE COLLEGE THEY ATTEND
HBCUs or what are better known as historically black colleges and universities include all the US higher learning institutions that were founded prior to 1964 for the sole purpose of offering services to the black community. Today, historically black colleges and universities number to about one hundred and five in the U.S. Typically, HBCUs include community colleges, medical schools as well as four and two year institutions that are either private or public. It is important to note that though quite a number of HBCUs remain in operation today, quite a number of such institutions were forced to close down specifically in the 20th century as a result of increased competition as well as the effects of the 1920s Great Depression that saw a downturn in economic activity and hence enhanced financial difficulties for such colleges and universities.
Over time, we have had different scholars discussing issues to do with HBCUs and their contribution towards segregation and/or acceptance of African American students. While some argue that such HBCU institutions promote segregation, others are of the opinion that such institutions offer African American students an environment/culture they are familiar with and accepted in.
In this text, I discuss whether or not HBCUs or what is more popularly known as historically black college and universities perpetuate segregation or whether such institutions actually give African American students an environment/culture they are familiar with as well as accepted in. I also discuss on whether HBCU education and certifications are equally acceptable in comparison with the non-HBCU degrees or certifications. Lastly I discuss whether students are getting the same education as well as how hard it is for HBCU graduates to find employment.
A brief history
According to Brown (1999), the American civil war is what informed the establishment of quite a number of HBCUs. However, it is important to note that there were a number of HBCUs established way before the American civil war including but not limited to the WilberforceUniversity which was founded in 1856 as well as the PennsylvaniaCheyneyUniversity which was founded in 1837. It is important to note that the primary goal that informed the establishment of the HBCUs was the existing need to provide education to African Americans. Betsey (2008) notes it was not until 1865 that a vast majority of HBCUs were established so as to address the existing need to avail education to slaves that were newly freed as well as a way of ensuring that the slaves who were freed did not find their way into white institutions that were already in existence.
It is important to note that at first, HBCUs were founded by groups of Christian missionaries as an act of philanthropy in conjunction with other independent religious institutions. Most of the HBCUs were based in the north and as already stated above, some of the very first ones were founded way before the civil way and they included WilberforceUniversity and PennsylvaniaCheyneyUniversity. Jackson et al. (2003) however notes that an examination of the historical background of HBCUs is largely incomplete without a mention of court decisions as well as legislations that informed the founding of quite a number of HBCUs as well as the closure of others.
To begin with, there are three initial legislations that laid ground for the growth of HBCUs. These legislations include the 1862 National Land-Grant colleges Act that enabled African Americans to access college education; the 1890 2nd Morrill Act that laid ground for the founding of nineteen historically black colleges and universities; and finally the Plessy V Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896 that entrenched in law the right to come up with schools for blacks that were essentially separate but equal. Brown (1999) notes that this single Supreme Court ruling was the one that informed the growth as well as expansion of HBCUs.
Based on the Plessy V Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896, we had an exponential increase in the number of HBCUs from exactly one to above one hundred in 1837 and 1973 respectively. Lucas (1996) argues that during this time, the drive to keep blacks from the American universities and colleges was also one of the main contributing factors to the exponential growth of the historically black colleges and universities. To underline this assertion, it was not until 1954 that PWIs or what are better known as predominantly white institutions started admitting African American students after the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court ruling.
According to the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court ruling which was done in 1954, having separate institutions for African Americans was basically unconstitutional as such education institutions were in one way or the other unequal. Prior to this ruling, there was an enhanced public schools racial segregation that was seen to be largely de jure. In addition to recommending the dismantling of dual systems of higher education within states, the ruling was also considered to be instrumental as far as eliminating the public schools racial segregation was concerned hence enabling African Americans to access PWIs institutions.
It is interesting to note that the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court ruling still hovers over higher education today, many years after it was made. This ruling according to Brown (1999) has had a lasting impact on HBCUs than any other ruling made in the mid-twentieth century essentially because quite a number of historically black colleges and universities have closed down as well as merged as a result of the dual systems dismantlement. It is also interesting to note that those who are opposed to the idea of having HBCUs claim that such institutions promote segregation.
It is in the light of such assertions that debates, discussions as well as issues have come up questioning the relevance, appropriateness as well as practicability of historically black colleges as well as universities. Proponents of these institutions of higher learning however continue to argue that HBCUs give African American students an environment as well as culture that they are familiar with as well as accepted in. According to Ricard (2008), there is hence an existing need to carry out more research on this higher education segment.
Social and Academic Experiences at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
According to . Lucas (1996), when it comes to higher education literature as far as HBCUs are concerned, not much has been done so far. He notes that it as not until the early 70s that the historically black colleges and universities became research study subjects. However, it is important to note that since then, there has been a renewed effort by researchers to derive the various social as well as academic experiences of students attending historically black colleges and institutions.
In a 1992 research carried out by Freeman (1998), it was found out that as far as occupational aspirations, social involvement as well as academic performance is concerned; African American students attending predominantly white institutions or what are also known as PWIs registered lower scores as far as the three measures were concerned as compared to those who attended historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. He also notes that students from HBCUs had a greater feeling of engagement, connection, encouragement as well as acceptance. It is important to note that one of the most prominent arguments advanced by those who support HBCUs is that such institutions are more effective towards addressing the specific needs as well as interests of African American students. Proponents of historically black colleges and universities like Ricard (2008) also argue that when it comes to availing assets for African American students, HBCUs tend to do better than other integrated institutions. Further, according to . Lucas (1996), historically black colleges and universities also go a long way towards enhancing communication with their African American students so as to increase their chances of growth both on the intellectual as well as social front. To further highlight why HBCUs offer African Americans students an environment/culture that they are familiar with and accepted in it may be prudent to discuss a number of issues including but not limited to
Cultural awareness enhancement
Jackson et al. (2003) notes that predominantly white institutions or what is better known as PWIs may tend to overlook the African American historical contributions as well as influence but HBCUs by design highlight on the same so as to enhance the students understanding of history and its reverence to the current state of affairs. In this regard, African Americans tend to be more appreciative of their culture as a result of the natured and guided understanding of the same in HBCUs. According to Freeman (1998) many students in HBCUs have in one way or the other interacted with discrimination be it hearing of it or experiencing the same. The learning environment at HBCUs is such that students can openly discuss a wide variety of challenges being experienced by African Americans and in so doing, solutions that may be workable are floated around. This is what ends up producing a better rounded person ready to confront challenges in a word that is increasingly becoming diverse be it at the workplace or otherwise.
Also, Ricard (2008) notes that due to the enhancement of cultural awareness, HBCUs tend to have higher student retention rates than other institutions. This essentially means that of those who enroll in these HBCUs, a higher percentage tends to graduate as compared to the non- HBCUs. Further, because students in HBCUs are more likely to see those they look up to in advanced programs including but not limited to business, engineering as well as sciences; they themselves may pursue the same in an enabling as well as motivated environment.
On the social front, Ricard (2008) argues that African American students feel more accepted in HBCUs than in any other institutions. It is this acceptance that enhances the emotional wellbeing necessary for the students to study. It is important to note that the acceptance environment which is created within HBCUs ensures that no student feels isolated, socially or otherwise. This essentially means that the integration of such a student to lifestyle of campus or college is enhanced and made wholesome. . Lucas (1996) is also of the opinion that social relationships that are essentially healthy are fostered within HBCUs and over time due to he environment of acceptance already created, the relationship between faculty members and students as well as between students and their peers is highly conducive for learning t take place as well as for the wholesome development of an individual to take place. Within the HBCUs, it is common to encounter informal as well as formal mentoring relationships blossoming in such an enabling system. Freeman (1998) also notes that the level of self-esteem as well as ethnic pride fostered within the historically black colleges and education institutions cannot be rivaled elsewhere. Further, Lucas (1996) notes that HBCUs also act as black heritage repositories.
Ricard (2008), a LincolnUniversity’s staffer notes that “ours is a closely knit family and all our students concentrate on their studies other than addressing a wide range of existing stereotypes”. To underscore the effectiveness of HBCUs to enhance the academic prowess of African Americans, Jackson et al. (2003) gives a list of high lying individuals who have passed through HBCUs to include Dr Martin Luther king who is an alumnus of Morehouse college; Victoria Gray Adams (a civil rights activist) who is an alumnus of Wilberforce University; Russell George (a jazz composer) who is an alumnus of Wilberforce University; DuBois (a civil rights activist) who is an alumnus of Fisk University and lastly Alice Walker (a leading poet as well as Feminist) who is an alumnus of Spelman College.
According to Freeman (1998), most of the programs offered at historically black colleges and universities are tailored to address all the unique needs of African American students and in that regard, they also address the specific needs of students having learning deficiencies. According to a 1994 study carried out by Jackson et al. (2003)HBCUs have over time proved to be superior as far as suiting their programs to their clientele is concerned and though they are in some cases constrained as far as resources are concerned, they continue to utilize what they have so as to be efficient. Historically, HBCUs have been using limited resources to avail education to African Americans and it is for this reason that Ricard (2008) brands them as ‘efficient’.
Further, as earlier stated, when one compares the academic gains of African American students attending PWIs with those of African American students attending HBCUs, there exists a clear difference. This according to Roebuck (1993) is attributable to the fact that the historically black colleges and universities campus environment avails to African American students unrivaled faculty relationship mechanism that is highly positive and ends up acting as a motivator for students as far as their academics are concerned.
Over time, HBCUs have been instrumental as far as the development of African American professionals in diverse fields is concerned. It is important to note that such institutions have been vital as far as the academic progression of a population which has historically been restricted socially, politically, economically, legally as well as academically is concerned. Though early historically black colleges and universities were founded with the aim of offering a wide range of community members as well as preachers and teachers training so as to counteract slavery effects and despairs; they end up opening a window of opportunity for thousands of African Americans who had little chances of accessing an enabling environment fro which to pursue their education. Similarly, the existing stereotypes could have made it difficult for African Americans to study in an enabling environment and hence it can be noted that HBCUs enhanced an equal opportunity for all as far as education is concerned. It cannot also go unsaid that when it comes to affordability, PWIs are much more expensive than HBCUs. This essentially mans that students attending HBCUs do not have to grapple with financial challenges and instead, they can concentrate more on their education. Further, apart from the tuition being a little bit lower for HBCUs, there are generous financial aid initiatives. Hey hence avail a more friendly learning environment as compared to other institutions that are predominantly white for African Americans.
To underline their contribution towards education, it is important to note that by the year 1950, historically black colleges and universities were serving an upwards of 90% of Africa Americans as far as higher education is concerned. As at 2001, close to 15% of African Americans in colleges were being served by HBCUs. Annually, HBCUs are said to churn out approximately 25% African American baccalaureate degrees. It is hence clear that the role of HBCUs as far as the enhancement of education amongst African Americans cannot be overstated.
HBCUs: Acceptability of their education
According to Ricard (2008) the current day and age has seen HBCUs compete for stellar applicants with other institutions considered highly prestigious. This is an account of how far HBCUs have come from. Though the HBCUs have embraced diversity in the recent past, their learning environments continue to be dedicated towards building on the cultural backgrounds of African Americans. However, this according to Gasman et al. (2010) does not in any way affect the delivery as well as acceptability of their education as they have over time aligned all their systems to match the set practices in the higher education sector. For instance, their applicants continue to be high quality as their application as well as enrolment process is identical to that of other institutions.
According to a Virginia tech study that went ahead to chart the historically black colleges and universities economic impact, it was found out that of all the African American men who attend four year universities as well as colleges, those from HBCUs tend to register higher lifetime earnings as compared to their counterparts from non- HBCUs. This study is a clear indicator that the various academic programs provided by historically black colleges and universities are acceptable across the board when compared to similar programs from other non- HBCUs. This study whose findings appeared in the southern economic journal has been branded an authority as far as proving that HBCU graduates are as competitive as their counterparts from non- HBCUs. The study which utilized data from the surveys of the National Longitudinal found out that African Americans who at first instance have no advantage from the attendance of HBCUs had their wage range increasing from 1.2% to 1.5% per annum as compared to the wages of their African American counterparts who attended other non-historically black colleges and universities. While reacting towards this study, Hale (2006), noted that the fat that those African American who attend HBCUs earn more over time shows that he quality of education in HBCUs is at par with the quality of other reputable non- HBCUs.
However, Sinha (2006) notes that just like the quality of education offers from institution to institution, not all historically black colleges and universities are the same. What this essentially means is that some HBCUs rank lower when it comes to the quality of education offered and while this is also the case in predominantly white colleges, the various historically black colleges and universities cannot be lumped together and hence each should be judged in its own merit. This are the same sentiments echoed by Wilson (2008) who notes that though the quality of education in HBCUs is not in question, there is an existing need to address a number of issues so as to make historically black colleges and universities more responsive to the educational needs of a diverse clientele in an fast changing world. He is of the opinion that there is an existing need to boost as well as enhance the so called STEM programs which include sciences, technology, engineering and last but not least, math. He also notes that there is a need to come up with funding streams for HBCUs that are relatively independent. This is founded on the fact that quite a good number of HBCUs that are state supported are struggling financially as a result of a constellation of factors including but not limited to nose-diving student financial assistance and the skyrocketing private education delivery costs. Richmond (1997) also notes that HBCUs need to embrace higher education innovation as well as focus more on the development of an able workforce for the job market. It is important to note that this is the trend that seems to be adopted by word class universities and to compete along this path, historically black colleges and universities must enhance innovation as well as revolutionalize their programs to make them more acceptable to employers in the global marketplace.
However, HBCUs continue to have the best student support services. In a survey carried out by the Thurgood MarshalCollege fund, historically black colleges and universities tend to have the best mentorship programs as well as academic support services that are complimentary as compared to the non- historically black colleges and universities in the same level. These superior student support services go a long way towards strengthening the historically black colleges and universities communities which helps in the preparation of graduates to adapt to the competitive marketplace. Further, the efforts of historically black colleges and universities as far as supporting leadership have been lauded over time. This encourages students to be more civically as well as politically active once they leave college and hence be drivers of worthy changes in the society. Amongst the historically black colleges and universities who have been active on the political as well as civic front include the late Dr Martin Luther king and Victoria Gray Adams.
HBCUs: Dissenting arguments
There are still those who claim that HBCUs promote segregation. According to Belgrave et al. (2009), HBCUs were established for a noble reason but their time has since expired. He continues to note that the world is increasingly becoming diverse and hence institutions and facilities that continue to define people by their color should be abolished. However, in my own opinion, Belgrave et al. (2009) seems to have missed a point or two here. To begin with, institutions that were originally or historically black g=have now embraced diversity and indeed this is especially the case in institutions like Bluefield State College as well as West Virginia University where the percentage of whites has been approximated to be 90%. The issue of segregation should therefore not arise as far as historically black colleges and universities are concerned in the modern day and age.
Gordon (2004) another of those who oppose the idea of HBCUs argues that HBCUs end up nurturing the segregation they seek to abort. This he sees as a contradiction because he too argues that the usefulness of HBCUs has been long passed by time. He also goes ahead to note that these institutions are against diversity and that those who graduate from the same lack in the skills required to compete in todays increasingly diverse marketplace. However, this is a stand disputed by Gordon (2004) who notes that historically black colleges and universities do not have any form of discrimination in their admission and anyone is free to join. Indeed, as already note above, this is especially the case in institutions like Bluefield State College as well as West VirginiaUniversity where the percentage of whites has been approximated to be 90%. It is hence pointless to claim that graduates from such institutions d not have adequate skills to compete effectively in the increasingly diverse marketplace. As closing arguments therefore, HBCUs are no longer predominantly African American as it was so many years ago as they were being established. The fact that they do not discriminate in their admission processes shows that they have fully embraced racial diversity and hence in such an instance, the issue of segregation should not arise.
HBCUs: The current status
Of the one hundred and five HBCUs in the US currently, we have fifty two availing to their students master’s level graduate degree programs and a total of twenty seven availing to their clientele doctoral programs. The remaining number offers either associate degrees or bachelor degree programs. However, it is important to note that there has been a significant drop n the number of bachelor degreed awarded to African American students at the historically black college and universities. From a high of 34% back in 1976, the number of bachelors degrees offered by HBCUs to African American students now stands at approximately 20% (Gasman et al. 2008). However, there has been a significant growth in the number of enrolment in HBCUs and while during 1976 the enrolment stood at about 180,000 students, we had the same standing at slightly above 200000 as at the year 2006. Jackson et al. (2003) notes that what has contributed most towards his growth is the increasing number of female African American enrolment in the same institutions.
In sharp contrast to the earlier days when HBCUs were predominantly African American institutions, today we have such institutions embracing racial diversity most evidently due to the calls for affirmative action especially after the 1960s Civil Rights Laws enactment. Consequently we have some historically black colleges and universities today registering higher enrolment rates amongst non-blacks. This is especially the case in institutions like Bluefield State College as well as West VirginiaUniversity where the percentage of whites has been approximated to be 90%. It is also important to note that quite a good number of HBCUs that are state supported are struggling financially as a result of a constellation of factors including but not limited to nose-diving student financial assistance and the skyrocketing private education delivery costs. One of the most notable developments witnessed by HBCUs in the recent past has been the digitalization of the institution’s libraries, thanks to the Andrew W. Mellon foundation that has been funding the project.
It is important to note ha those who are predominantly against HBCUs as well as the proponents of the same are in agreement that as far as African American postsecondary education is concerned, HBCUs have had a largest impact. Though HBCUs have encountered a number of challenges, they continue to give African American students an environment/culture that that they are familiar with and accepted in. It is also important to note that scholars as well as researchers have in the recent past renewed their interest in HBCUs and it is hence probable that there shall be an increased understanding of HBCUs as far as their roles in African American education is concerned. Further, more research on the role of historically black colleges and universities as far as their contribution towards postsecondary education diversity as well as their unique identity shall not only be timely but highly desirable.
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