HBCU scholars answer questions at NYTimes education blog

i-1d6d36e86c57602de4a01c44203b89c7-hbcu_logos2-thumb-250x187-42295.jpgLast week, the New York Times college admissions and aid blog, The Choice, solicited readers for questions on US historically-black colleges and universities (HBCUs). These 105 HBCUs, primarily in the southern US, were defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965 as institutions of higher learning established prior to 1964 whose principal mission was and is the education of black Americans.

Answering questions received last week are African-American education expert, Dr. Marybeth Gasman, of the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College, a private HBCU in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I admire both of these educators: Gasman's work has provided me with an education on the history and relevance of HBCUs and President Kimbrough is one of the youngest college presidents in the US, dedicated to "cultivating a new generation of academically accomplished and socially conscious African-American students." Kimbrough also maintains an active blog.

Both Gasman and Kimbrough were recognized by Diverse Issues in Higher Education among The Top 25 to Watch, a list that also included Princeton University professor and frequent TV commentator, Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell, who also writes for The Nation.

The first round of answers appear today at The Choice. Therein they tackle the first topic that comes up in any conversation, even among African Americans: what purpose do HBCUs serve today?

Gasman responds:

Historically black colleges and universities offer a choice to African-Americans and other students. For African-Americans, in particular, they offer an environment that tends to be free of white racism and daily racial aggressions.

This kind of environment can be wonderfully empowering; students are not distracted from learning. In addition, students find many role models who look like them and in many cases have similar backgrounds. This, again, is empowering. Historically black colleges and universities offer small classes and dedicated faculty members who spend ample time outside the classroom with students. . .

. . .Spelman and another all-female black college, Bennett College for Women, in North Carolina, are responsible for sending 50 percent of black women into graduate science programs. Other historically black colleges and universities have similar success stories. Xavier University of Louisiana offers another example in terms of its success in the area of preparation for medical school. This small school, which sustained significant damage during Hurricane Katrina, sends about 100 students to medical school each year, more than any other college or university in the country.

Kimbrough responded primarily to a question on how HBCUs remain competitive in recruiting top students when African Americans are now aggressively recruited at Ivy League schools. In answering, he also comments on the continued need of HBCUs:

Lots of institutions are now boasting about programs that ensure lower- and middle-class students can attend at no cost, but few have reported the success of these programs with raw numbers. The reason? Very few students are benefiting because they still want a certain student, and bringing in lots of solid students with lower [standardized] scores will hurt rankings.

But on a more basic level, there is still a great deal of racial tension on college campuses these days. The "Compton Cookout" party at U.C. San Diego (and subsequent noose on campus) and the littering of the cultural center lawn with cotton balls at the University of Missouri -- both within the last month -- remind students and their families that there is a chance they may enter an environment filled with daily racial micro-aggressions like these.

A free ride is great, but peace of mind is priceless.

About two years ago, we also posted a blogger round-up of answers to this question.

Throughout the rest of this week, Kimbrough and Gasman will continue to answer from among the 40+ questions posed last week and are still taking new questions in the comments section of today's post.


More like this

Racism begins with our families, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, people we admire, respect and love.

However, as we grow and mature we come to the realization that what we were told by our family when we were children were slanted lies base on their prejudices. We realize that most people are like ourselves and not so different and want the same things, like a home, steady work, a healthcare and schools for our children (if you travel you will see this). We realize that most people are of good hearts and goodwill.

This reminds me of a parable from the good book where a Levite and Priest come upon a man who fell among thieves and they both individually passed by and didnât stop to help him.

Finally a man of another race came by, he got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy and got down with the injured man, administered first aid, and helped the man in need.

Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the âIâ into the âthou,â and to be concerned about his fellow man.

You see, the Levite and the Priest were afraid, they asked themselves, âIf I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?â

But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: âIf I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?â

Thatâs the question before us. The question is not, âIf I stop to help our fellow man in need, what will happen to me?â The question is, âIf I do not stop to help our fellow man, what will happen to him or her?â Thatâs the question.

This current climate of blaming, mocking or demeaning others for our own short comings, is not new, we have had this before and we have conquered it. Remember âEvil flourishes when good men (and women) do nothingâ. Raise your voices with those of us who believe we are equal and we can win this battle again.

God bless all my brothers and sister that stood side by side with our brothers and sisters in need, when you saw a wrong you tried to correct it, you may argue the methods but not the reasons. I know God will not discriminate by country of origin, our sex, our orientation, color of our skin, or our religion as men do.


By Benito Juarez (not verified) on 08 Mar 2010 #permalink

Thanks for this post. I've learned a lot about HBCUs since I came to Atlanta and met the outstanding Morehouse and Spelman graduates doing science down here. (And a NCCU student just accepted my program's offer of admission, and will be joining us in the fall!) I'm so supportive of their mission, and I'm seriously considering applying for an IRACDA fellowship when I finish up my PhD!

I grew up in a small southern town in Arkansas that happened to have a land grant college, an HBCU. The information given in this article is absolutely true.

I can't tell you the world it meant and still means to me that I had the opportunity to grow up in that college environment and the exposure gained by it's presence in my community and my life. I never felt myself inferior to anyone and from the beginning I realized my self worth. This I credit to having an HBCU in my backyard.

I graduated from my "home school" and served it student as President of the Student Government Association. Experience is a powerful teacher and concentrating on the purpose for being in college instead of negative social dynamics, subtle or not, is a distraction.

I lived within 40 miles of Little Rock Central and 150 miles from Memphis when Dr. King was killed, but nothing could shake what I had learned about who and what I am.

These and many other valuable things became a part of me because I saw and learned from positive role models that cared about me and were like me. You can't replace that.

Laura, let me know how I can be of help with your K12 application - we'd love to have you do your teaching part of the fellowship in our neck of the woods!

George, yours is the kind of experience I see all around me, with both current students and alumni. In fact, I think that alumni are of critical importance to sustaining the HBCU experience. I hope that you continue to serve your alma mater as you did when you were a student. Thanks so much for sharing your comments here.

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As a college counselor in NY (a state which has no historically black colleges), I have many students who would love to attend an HBCU.

Unfortunately, I have rarely seen an HBCU provide a financial package that makes their institution affordable for my students to attend. Most decide to attend other, non HBCU institutions that are more cost effective. Those of my students who do choose to attend will graduate crippled by student loan debt.

How are HBCUs trying to combat their lack of institutional funding to make their schools affordable for all students, especially those of low income?

Thanks for sharing such a nice article, because there are lot of students who would love to attend an HBCU.But, HBCU is very expensive that an ordinary student can't afford to attend. Is there any plan in pipeline to work for ordinary student's?