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Mar 30th, 2009 by James Breedlove | 0

Two recent studies appear to provide contradictory conclusions on the effectiveness of education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs).


“The State of Blacks in Higher Education” report released by the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) credited historically Black colleges and universities with a disproportionately large share of Black educational gains over the past two decades.  HBCUs awarded nearly 50 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to Blacks in the natural and physical sciences, a little more than 25 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in engineering, and nearly 25 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to Blacks.


An Associated Press analysis of government data on the 83 federally designated four-year HBCUs indicated that the graduation rate for blacks lags behind their counterparts at predominantly white institutions.  Just 37 percent of black students at the HBCUs finish a degree within six years.  The biggest factor causing this achievement gap is the sub-par 29 percent completion rate for black men.


The Education Trust, an independent nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., concluded in a recent report that African American students are still not receiving the education they deserve and the under underperformance disparity should be considered a crisis.


Education is one area where African Americans have continued to struggle since the Brown v Board of Education decision early in the Civil Rights Movement.


Even after a decade of small increases in the numbers of black students who go to college, the number of black males who enroll remains minuscule.  Most of the increase in black enrollment in institutions of higher education is almost entirely due to women whose numbers average almost two times the number of their black male counterparts in enrollment and in graduation rates.


Education underachievement among African Americans is a crisis, but raising African American achievement is not an insurmountable task.  It has been done, as pockets of educational excellence have proven, in such institutions as Spelman College in Atlanta with a 77 percent graduation rate and the 64 percent rate at Morehouse and Fisk.  Hampton University and Howard University are on the short list of HCBUs that graduate at least half of their black students within six years.


Students drop out for many reasons, but money is the one at the top of most lists.  More than six in 10 students at the HBCUs the AP analyzed get Pell Grants, which go mainly to students from families earning under $30,000.  The faltering economy is hitting HBCU students hard.


The black reaction of dismay and disgust at the notion of their educational institutions being shut down is not an acceptable substitute for taking proactive steps to ensure that these citadels of learning not only stay open but thrive with progressive programs and reformed missions instead of existing with constrictive agendas dictated primarily by bureaucratic funders.


Each year, because of the crisis of black males not graduating, thousands of jobless, skill-less, and anti-socialized undereducated black males flounder in communities where intact male-headed families are the exception rather than the rule, and where upward social, political, and economic mobility remains an unfulfilled promise.


The black community in America has thousands of civic, social, fraternal, professional and religious organizations that collectively are spending millions of dollars each year on scholarships and other educational related assistance.  So why do HBCUs continue struggling to stay relevant and black students, especial men, struggle to graduate?


One opinion is that blacks have never fully accepted the responsibility of financially supporting its foundational institutions.


In the case of HBCUs most of the operational funding comes from the federal government.  However, the government’s rhetoric of education priority has not been matched by the generosity of its pocketbook.  Black colleges generally have inadequate endowments or other resources necessary to generate student financial aid funds that enable students to stay in school.


Salvaging America’s HBCUs is a large task and large financial numbers are involved. The problem will not be remedied by a few enlightened souls volunteering to sporadically donate a few hundred dollars whenever one of the HBCUs becomes insolvent. It will require hands on leadership with a vision for change.


Saving HBCUs is definitely a long term commitment.  Education is central in the quest for black self determination and blacks should not remain impotent and let this opportunity to control our future destiny pass.  So, the question remains, who will lead the way?


Saving America’s HBCUs should be the prioritized mission of Black America’s myriad and diverse organizations to lead the effort that guides our HBCUs to a new level of excellence, quality and pride supported by a solid financial base that is not dependent on the whimsical benevolence of indifferent politicians.


For those who would be the leaders of Black America stop the rhetoric—now is the time to step forward, address the crisis of black males struggling to graduate, and fulfill America’s promise that a quality education is not reserved just for the privileged.


James W. Breedlove

Comments or opinions may be sent to the writer at: www.truthclinic.com


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