With only 13% of African Americans in higher education, these colleges [HBCUs] awarded nearly 30%
of all undergraduate degrees earned by African American students in the science, technology,
engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines; 50% of all bachelor’s degrees in teacher education received
by African American students; and 85% of Doctor of Medicine degrees acquired by African Americans
Letter to the Wall Street Journal
By William R. Harvey, President of Hampton UniversityChairman, Presidents Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
A recent Wall Street Journal article by Jason Riley questioned the relevance of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in today’s society. He complained about President Obama’s conventional approach to HBCUs and opined that “instead of more subsidies and toothless warnings to shape up”, the President and federal government ought to “. . . remake these schools to meet today’s challenges.”
I cannot speak for the President, but I have spoken to him about HBCUs. An ardent supporter of historically black colleges and universities, President Obama understands and appreciates their value to the nation and the world. The facts justify his support, i.e., representing 4% of all American colleges and universities, HBCUs conferred over 22% of all degrees awarded to African Americans. With only 13% of African Americans in higher education, these colleges awarded nearly 30% of all undergraduate degrees earned by African American students in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines; 50% of all bachelor’s degrees in teacher education received by African American students; and 85% of Doctor of Medicine degrees acquired by African Americans according to statistics compiled by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
Most HBCUs are also economic engines in their communities. According to a 2006 National Center for Educational Statistics report, the short term economic impact of HBCUs is $10 billion annually, providing more than 180,000 full and part-time jobs. The report also noted, “to put that in perspective, the rolled up employment impact of the nation’s HBCUs exceeds the 177,000 jobs at the Bank of America in 2006, which was the nation’s 23rd largest employer.”
In attempting to make his case, Riley presented biased, antiquated suppositions such as articles written by Thomas Sowell some 36-years ago along with references by Christopher Jencks and David Riesman some 43-years ago. Riley also makes such groundless claims as ” . . .available evidence shows that in the main, these students are better off exercising their non-HBCU options.” What evidence? This certainly is not the experience that we have seen at Hampton University.
Another ridiculous assertion that Riley offers is that “For-profit entities could be brought in to manage other schools.” He uses the University of Phoenix, a for-profit college, as an example stating that they confer more bachelor’s degrees on black students than any other school. Does he really want HBCUs to model themselves after an institution whose latest graduation rates, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), was 1% at 4 years, 4% at 6 years, and 6% at 8 years?
Riley’s mindset, journalistic standards, and research methodology aside, as President of Hampton University, and Chairman of the Presidents Advisory Board on HBCUs, I want to provide a more accurate view of HBCUs and the quality work many of these institutions perform.
First and foremost, just like predominately white institutions, HBCUs are not a monolith. Some are exceptional, the majority are sufficient all but a few are accredited institutions that meet or exceed the standards set by the accrediting bodies for any institution. An acknowledgment of some of the world-class academic and research activities at HBCUs is in order. Let me begin with my own institutionHampton University.
In August, Hampton University began seeing its first patients at the Hampton University Proton Therapy cancer treatment center. The center is one of only eight in the United States and the largest free-standing facility in the world. Sixty-five percent of the patients treated at this facility will have prostate cancer, the other 35% will be those with breast, lung, ocular, and pediatric cancers.
Faculty in our School of Pharmacy have been involved in Alzheimer’s research. If their research on proteins in the blood can provide a link to Alzheimer’s, then a protocol establishing an early diagnostic test will allow physicians to treat the disease before it manifests itself.
Our Skin of Color Institute is a research center dedicated to probing issues, challenges, and diseases unique to the skin in people of color. The goal is to develop new and better treatments.
In 2007, Hampton University launched a $140 million weather satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base to study noctilucent clouds in the ionosphere. With this feat, Hampton became the first historically black college or university to have 100% responsibility and control of a NASA satellite mission.
Hampton is also home to the National Center for African American Marriages and Parenting. The Center’s mission is to strengthen families in the African American community by helping them gain essential knowledge, skills, and other resources required for building and sustaining healthy marriages and practicing effective parenting.
Hampton’s nationally known physics department continues to do outstanding work. One physics group has received 12 patents on prostate and breast cancer detection devices. Another group has 14 patents on prosthesis for artificial limbs.
The Hampton University Leadership Academy is providing a multi-faceted approach to improving the level and effectiveness of school leaders. Hampton is the only educational entity in the entire state of Virginia to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Education in support of this initiative, and will work with the public school systems in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Franklin, Danville, and Roanoke, Virginia.
When one looks at the depth and breadth of Hampton University’s academic, research, and public service activities, any objective analysis will show that Hampton does not need a remake, as it is clearly one of the best and most productive modest-sized universities in the country.
Other HBCUs are also doing outstanding work. Xavier University in New Orleans has educated nearly 25% of the approximately 6,000 black pharmacists practicing in the United States, and ranks first in the nation in placing African American students in medical schools. Tougaloo College ranks among the top 50 institutions whose graduates earn PhDs in science and engineering disciplines. More than 40% of Mississippi’s practicing African-American physicians, dentists, other health professionals, and attorneys are graduates of Tougaloo College.
North Carolina A&T is the nation’s largest producer of African-American bachelors and doctorates in engineering. North Carolina A&T, Tuskegee, Florida A&M, Spelman, Tennessee State, Prairie View A&M, Morgan State, Howard, and Alabama A&M cumulatively graduate more than 30% of all African Americans who receive engineering degrees.
In addition to training physicians, dentists, and other health professionals, Meharry Medical College has a Center of AIDS Health Disparities Research. Faculty at this Center have discovered and patented a salve that removes cholesterol from the HIV virus causing it to lose its ability to infect.
This short list of some of the research and academic activities at HBCUs refutes the assertion that HBCUs are inferior. In fact, it illustrates that some HBCUs are superior.
Better research could have enlightened Riley immensely. Sometimes, however, particularly when a viewpoint is inaccurate or extreme, people don’t want to be confused with the facts.
Clearly, historically black colleges and universities do not need “a makeover” or “a new mission.” What is needed are major publications, such as the Wall Street Journal to conduct solid and sincere research so it can better appreciate the value and contributions HBCUs make.
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Black Colleges Need a New Mission
Once an essential response to racism, they are now academically inferior
President Obama has shown a commendable willingness to shake up the status quo in K-12 education by advocating reforms, such as charter schools, that have left his teachers union base none-too-pleased. So it’s unfortunate that he has such a conventional approach to higher education, and to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in particular. Earlier this month, Mr. Obama hosted a White House reception to celebrate the contributions of the nation’s 105 black colleges and to reiterate his pledge to invest another $850 million in these institutions over the next decade.
Recalling the circumstances under which many of these schools were created after the Civil War, the president noted that “at a critical time in our nation’s history, HBCUs waged war against illiteracy and ignorance and won.” He added: “You have made it possible for millions of people to achieve their dreams and gave so many young people a chance they never thought they’d have, a chance that nobody else would give them.”
The reality today, however, is that there’s no shortage of traditional colleges willing to give black students a chance. When segregation was legal, black colleges were responsible for almost all black collegians. Today, nearly 90% of black students spurn such schools, and the available evidence shows that, in the main, these students are better off exercising their non-HBCU options.
“Even the best black colleges and universities do not approach the standards of quality of respectable institutions,” according to economist Thomas Sowell. “None has a department ranking among the leading graduate departments in any of the 29 fields surveyed by the American Council of Education. None ranks among the ‘selective’ institutions with regard to student admissions. None has a student body whose College Board scores are within 100 points of any school in the Ivy League.”
Mr. Sowell wrote that in an academic journal in 1974, yet with few exceptions the description remains accurate. These days the better black schoolsHoward, Spelman, Morehouseare rated “selective” in the U.S. News rankings, but their average SAT scores still lag behind those at decent state schools like the University of Texas at Austin, never mind a Stanford or Yale.
In 2006, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the six-year graduation rate at HBCUs was 37%. That’s 20 percentage points below the national average and eight percentage points below the average of black students at other colleges. A recent Washington Monthly magazine survey of colleges with the worst graduation rates featured black schools in first and second place, and in eight of the top 24 spots.
The economists Roland Fryer of Harvard and Michael Greenstone of MIT have found that black colleges are inferior to traditional schools in preparing students for post-college life. “In the 1970s, HBCU matriculation was associated with higher wages and an increased probability of graduation, relative to attending a [traditional college],” they wrote in a 2007 paper. “By the 1990s, however, there is a substantial wage penalty. Overall, there is a 20% decline in the relative wages of HBCU graduates in just two decades.” The authors concluded that “by some measures, HBCU attendance appears to retard black progress.”
Mr. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have urged HBCUs to improve their graduation ratesMr. Duncan has said they need to increase “exponentially”but the administration has brought little pressure to bear and is offering substantial financial assistance to keep them afloat. Howard and Spelman have endowments valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but a large majority of black colleges have very small endowments and more than 80% get most of their revenue from the government.
Instead of more subsidies and toothless warnings to shape up, Mr. Obama ought to use the federal government’s leverage to remake these schools to meet today’s challenges.
Uneconomically small black colleges could be consolidated. For-profit entities could be brought in to manage other schools. (For the past two years, the University of Phoenix, a for-profit college, has conferred more bachelor’s degrees on black students than any other school.) Still other HBCUs could be repurposed as community colleges that focus on developmental courses to compensate for the poor elementary and secondary educations that so many black children still receive.
In 1967, two white academics, Christopher Jencks and David Riesman, published a bleak but prescient assessment of black colleges in the Harvard Educational Review. They predicted that these schools are “for the most part, likely to remain fourth-rate institutions at the tail end of the academic procession.” Messrs. Jencks and Riesman were called racists, and honest comprehensive studies of black colleges have since been rare.
Black colleges are at a crossroads. At one time black colleges were an essential response to racism. They trained a generation of civil rights lawyers and activists who helped end segregation. Their place in U.S. history is secure. Today, however, dwindling enrollments and endowments indicate that fewer and fewer blacks believe that these schools, as currently constituted, represent the best available academic choice.
A black president is uniquely qualified to restart this discussion. Anyone who cares about the future of black higher education should hope that he does.
Mr. Riley is a member of the Journal’s editorial board.
Source: Wall Street Journal
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False Comparisons: the Plight of Historically Black Colleges?October 4, 2010by Marybeth GasmanNo matter how many times historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) demonstrate progress and success, they continue to take a beating from ill-informed critics. The latest incident appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Once again, the author used flawed analysis in an attempt to show that HBCUs are inferior.
Since their inception, many people have labeled HBCUs inferior even though they are responsible for educating the majority of the African-American middle class as we know it. When hurling criticism at HBCUs, most naysayers point to the words of Black conservativessuch as Thomas Sowell, who has lambasted HBCUs for decades, or sociologists Christopher Jencks and Davie Riesman, whose 1967 study of HBCUs labeled them academic disaster areas. What these critics fail to realize is that neither Sowell nor Jencks and Riesman did empirical research on HBCUs to make their claimsinstead, they relied only on anecdote and personal experience.Chronicle
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Black Student College Graduation Rates Remain Low, But Modest Progress Begins to ShowNationwide, the black student graduation rate remains at a dismally low 42 percent. But the rate has improved by three percentage points over the past two years. More encouraging is the fact that over the past seven years the black student graduation rate has improved at almost all of the nation’s highest-ranked universities.
On page 11 of this issue of JBHE [Journal of Blacks in Higher Education] we report the encouraging news that African-American enrollments at the vast majority of our nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities have shown significant improvement over the past quarter-century.
But a more important statistical measure of the performance of blacks in higher education is how many black students throughout the nation are completing school and earning a college degree. Department of Education data reveals that, as expected, black students who earn a four-year college degree have incomes that are substantially higher than blacks who have only some college experience but have not earned a degree. Most important, blacks who complete a four-year college education have a median income that is near parity with similarly educated whites. According to the most recent statistics, the nationwide college graduation rate for black students stands at an appallingly low rate of 42 percent. This figure is 20 percentage points below the 62 percent rate for white students. Here, the only positive news we have to report is that over the past two years the black student graduation rate has improved by three percentage points.JBHE
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By Henry N. Drewry and Humphrey Doermann
The authors present a fascinating study of the past and present of 45 private black colleges. For a long period in American history, these institutions were the only educational option for blacks, and they continue to be viewed as sanctuaries for black students looking for supportive cultural and educational environments.
The first part of the book explores the pre-Civil War period, when education of slaves was illegal; the creation of schools by abolitionist and former slaves after the Civil War; and the early period of segregation.
The second part focuses on the more recent history of the colleges and the changing social and educational context in which they operate, as well as their role in developing black leaders and the growing black middle class. The book includes much factual data on the colleges but aptly conveys the important contributions of these schools as race relations have evolved and the challenges they face in the future, ranging from chronic underfunding to attacks on affirmative action. A valuable resource.Vanessa Bush, Booklist
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HBCU Chiefs Address Grad RatesDecember 15, 2009Under renewed scrutiny about lackluster graduation rates, a group of historically black college presidents is pushing for new assessment tools they say will better capture student outcomes.
While details remain sparse, a report to be published Wednesday by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund suggests that the six-year graduation rate as measured by federal data should be replaced with a new model. Echoing complaints often registered by community college leaders, the report, Making the Grade: Improving Degree Attainment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), argues that federal data fail to capture the successes of transfer students and part-time students who often attend the institutions. Moreover, the data fail to account for the fact that many HBCU students face additional barriers to success, including lower socioeconomic status and the need for remediation, the report notes.
HBCUs have a history of serving underserved and nontraditional students, which places the institutions at a disadvantage when compared to other colleges under the six-year graduation rate standard, according to Mary Sias, president of Kentucky State University and a co-author of the report.
Youre not comparing apples to apples, Sias said on a conference call Monday. If you gave me the same students, I would be able to do as well or better than the other universities that are majority-serving institutions.
Nonetheless, the six-year graduation rate has emerged as the federal standard for comparing very different institutions. And when viewed through that lens, HBCUs often dont appear to be doing well. When the Associated Press analyzed the six-year graduation rates of 83 four-year HBCUs earlier this year, it found that just 37 percent of black students finished within six years. While HBCUs have long touted their special role in educating African Americans, the report noted that the collective graduation rate for black students at HBCUs is actually 4 percentage points lower than the national college graduation rate for black students.InsideHigherEd
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Are Historically Black Colleges Worth It?By Dwayne Ashley September 20, 2007Fryer and Greenstone speculate about the negative impact of U.S. v. Fordice (1992), which required states to either integrate HBCUs or find educational justification for their continuance. But HBCUs have responded to this challenge by successfully integrating their student bodies and faculties to reflect the nations growing diversity, while still remaining true to their core mission of providing affordable, high-quality education to African-Americans. There is another possible explanation for the relative wage decline, one that Fryer and Greenstone acknowledge: The data could reflect improvements in how majority institutions educated Black students, and not a decline in HBCU standards. Looking at the data from this vantage point, the study could well be titled, African-Americans Demonstrate Education Gains at Majority White Schools. Such a conclusion doesnt even require particularly sophisticated analysis. Following the civil rights movement of the 1960s, for example, a relatively large number of African-American students entered the nations colleges and universities. The result was a period of turmoil and adjustment for students and institutions alike, as well as the lingering impact of persistent racism. In retrospect, it is obvious that HBCUs, largely spared these wrenching social adjustments, would have advantages that could be reflected in relatively higher incomes after graduation. Twenty years later, however, America was a very different place. Although issues of discrimination and racial inequality persisted in the 1990s, it is clear that both majority colleges and their Black students became better equipped to succeed in the classroom and beyond.DiverseEducation
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By Patrick J.Gilpin and Marybeth Gasman
The milestones for blacks in twentieth-century Americathe Harlem Renaissance, the struggle for equal education, and the civil rights movementwould have been inconceivable without the contributions of one important but often overlooked figure, Charles S. Johnson (1893-1956). This compelling biography demonstrates the scope of his achievements, situates him among other black intellectuals of his time, and casts new light on a pivotal era in the struggle for black equality in America. An impresario of Harlem Renaissance culture, an eminent Chicago-trained sociologist, a pioneering race relations leader, and an educator of the generation that freed itself from legalized segregation, Johnson was a visionary who linked the everyday struggles of blacks with the larger intellectual and political currents of the day.
His distinguished career included twenty-eight years at Fisk University, where he established the famed Race Relations Institute and became Fisk’s first black president.
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Duncan Challenges Black Colleges to Improve Teacher Training and Graduation RatesBy Eric KeldermanDurham, N.C. June 3, 2010Education Secretary Arne Duncan reaffirmed on Thursday the White House’s commitment to helping historically black colleges survive and thrive into the future, but in a speech here he urged the institutions to improve their teacher-training programs and graduation rates.Mr. Duncan made his remarks to several hundred leaders and staff and faculty members of black colleges who were attending a symposium on historically black colleges at North Carolina Central University, which is celebrating its centennial year. The secretary said the administration of President Obama is giving black colleges unprecedented levels of attention and support in an effort to strengthen their financial condition. Administration officials spoke at the graduation ceremonies this spring of more than a dozen black colleges, including Hampton University, in Virginia, where the president addressed graduating students.Chronicle
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Salvaging “Academic Disaster Areas”: The Black College Response to Christopher Jencks and David Riesman’s 1967 Harvard EducationalReview Article by Marybeth GasmanUniversity of Pennsylvania1 March 2006Within the culture of vigorous debate and verbal sparring that exists within the academic community, a phrase like academic disaster areas might be taken with a grain of salt. However, in the context of the media, especially during a volatile time for Blacks, such a phrase had an incendiary effect. Although researchers should not disguise unpopular findings, they must be cognizant of the negative outcomes possible when Salvaging Academic Disaster Areas their work is reviewed in the media.
Any bad news about Black colleges continues to have a devastating effect on the institutions as a whole. Recently, several Black colleges have found themselves in dire financial straitsMorris Brown College (Georgia), Bennett College (South Carolina), and Texas Southern University (Houston). Reporters covering these stories have, in the manner of Jencks and Riesman, painted their shortcomings with a broad brush, and sometimes generalized them to include all Black colleges (Basinger, 2003; June, 2002; Poe, 2002). The exaggerated claims of these news articles have gained national attention, jeopardizing the fundraising programs and, in some cases, the existence of the institutions in question (June 2002; Poe, 2002; Simmons, 2002).
The historical efforts of the Black college leaders and of Black intellectuals to deflect Jencks and Riesmans criticisms may point the way for current efforts to avert crisis. Charles Willies actions, on the other hand, were a good example of how scholars can use the media in a way that benefits Black colleges. While the attempts of the Black college presidents to discredit Jencks and Riesman were important, they were ignored by the media. Willie was a clever handler of the media and had the benefit of 10 years of hindsight. Just as Jencks and Riesman had created a spectacle (albeit unintentionally), Charles Willies conference was a spectacle as wellone that elicited an apology from Harvard and at least one of the original authors (Edelman, 1988; Oriard, 1993; Rayboy & Dagenais, 1992). Moreover, it led to solid research on Black colleges.
Lastly, whereas it is reasonable (and accurate) to say that slavery was a damaging event, applying the idea of Blacks as mere victims as a blanket framework of interpretation today tends to obscure the agency of Blacks on their own behalf. Merely looking for the effects of slaverysuch as Uncle Tomism, aping White culture, internalized racism, etc.also exonerates White racists after slavery. This framework led Jencks and Riesman to miss precisely the developments that would later cast doubt on their research: growing Black assertiveness and self-awareness in the 1960s, which provided a foundation for the continuation and transformation of Black colleges today.UPenn
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By Benjamin E. Mays
Born the son of a sharecropper in 1894 near Ninety Six, South Carolina, Benjamin E. Mays went on to serve as president of Morehouse College for twenty-seven years and as the first black president of the Atlanta School Board. His earliest memory, of a lynching party storming through his county, taunting but not killing his father, became for Mays an enduring image of black-white relations in the South. Born to Rebel is the moving chronicle of his life, a story that interlaces achievement with the rebuke he continually confronted.
posted 20 November 2010