It's no secret the important history and role that HBCUs have played in the African American community. However, contrary to the belief of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration, HBCUs are more than just "pioneers of school choice," and definitely more than just a photo-op. HBCUs continue to play a vital role in our communities. New research from the Education Trusts revealed that the nation’s HBCUs are performing better than predominantly white schools in graduating low-income black students.

The study compared the graduation rates for schools whose Pell Grant recipients make up 40–75 percent of their student bodies. The findings show that the average graduation rate for black students at HBCUs was 37.8 percent, and 32.0 percent for non-HBCUs. The study also noted that roughly half of the nation’s 105 HBCUs have a freshman class where three-quarters of the students are from low-income backgrounds, while just one percent of the 676 non-HBCUs serve as high a percentage of low-income students.

Seeing that this is true, the question must be posed: Why aren't more lower income students taking advantage of the opportunities HBCUs have to offer? Unfortunately, ignorance to and lack of realization of the advantages of HBCUs have stopped many low income black and brown students from attending them. For this reason, one prominent Harlem pastor has made it his mission to bring more awareness to students.

Pastor Mike Walrond of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York has made an all-expenses paid tour of HBCU campuses an annual event. This year's tour will take place from April 11 to April 14, and admitted students will meet with faculty, special speakers and admissions counselors about the benefits of an HBCU education, campus life and what they need to be prepared to succeed as African American scholars. I had the honor of talking with Pastor Mike to gather more insight about the church's annual tour, and what it means for the community.

Pastor Mike is a proud HBCU alum himself, graduating from Morehouse college. "My wife went to Spelman, my son went to Morehouse and my daughter went to Spelman," he laughed. Having gone to an HBCU himself, and understanding the lack of knowledge that many students possess in regards to HBCUs, acted as inspiration for the creation of this tour. Not only do students lack knowledge of the important roles of HBCUs in the African American community, guidance counselors do too. He explained that it's the first instinct of guidance counselors in New York to recommend in-state PWIs, not realizing the disservice they are doing their students. 

That's where First Corinthian Baptist Church and HBCU advocacy programs, such as this tour, come into play.

This year will be the church's sixth tour. They have taken students to HBCUs all over the East Coast and Southeast region. This year, they will be visiting four schools, including Hampton University and Johnson C. Smith University.

While First Corinthian Baptist Church continues to do a wonderful job in advocacy and awareness, it's also important to note the role that Pell Grants play in funding post secondary education. With the Trump administration raiding nearly $4 billion from Pell Grants, I asked Pastor Mike how he believed this will affect HBCU enrollment for low income students.

"HBCUs will be hit hard," he put plainly. "Pell Grants are how many low income students pay for school all together."

He also suspects that there may be students who won't be able to finish, and may be forced to come home after as little as one semester. This is another reason why lesser-known HBCUs with better track records must be advocated for. Knowledge of the possibilities at these institutions must be shared, and First Corinthian Baptist Church is at the forefront.

If you would like to learn more about this amazing opportunity, or how you can get involved, email Syreena Howard at