Stop Asking Permission: Have we failed our HBCUs?
As a proud HBCU alum and supporter, it's always been important to me to educate others about the legacy of our institutions. Even though I graduated from Tennessee State University and enjoy rivalries with schools like Florida A & M University and Jackson State University, I'm just glad to be a part of the HBCU family. With that being said, in recent weeks I have seen reports of HBCUs losing accreditation, state legislators trying to bankrupt them, and PWI graduates questioning their legitimacy. Although the last one can happen on any given day, especially if you upset the right person, the other two are troubling and bring about an important question. Have we failed our HBCUs? Yes
And it's time we stop asking for permission to save them
Quick history lesson. Historically Black Colleges and Universities were started in church basements, old schoolhouses, and the homes of black families. These were just some of the very few places blacks could get a college education. They provided access to education and resources that otherwise would be next to impossible to receive. Initially, HBCUs were breeding grounds for teachers and farmers. From there the type of black excellence produced by HBCUs expanded to other areas like medicine, law and engineering. Today we have over 100 HBCUs in 19 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These prestigious institutions have produced notable graduates like Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University), Common (Florida A& M University), Spike Lee (Morehouse College), Stephen A. Smith (Winston-Salem State University) and Toni Morrison ( Howard University), just to name a few
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With all these academic receipts proving that we do indeed produce the best of the best, why does society constantly question HBCUs? Folks love pulling the accreditation joke card, but this is no laughing matter. Paine College is currently in a battle with recommendations to revoke its accreditation due to financial concerns. The college has been on probation since 2014 for not satisfying deficiencies in financial stability and control of sponsored research/external funds. So who's been playing with the collection plate? It seems as though the college has mismanaged funds and despite efforts to deal with its financial issues, the top brass has taken major blows to their payroll and football program
To add fuel to the fire and scrutiny, North Carolina recently proposed a bill that would reduce tuition to three HBCUs in the state and potentially change the name of them as well. The bill proposed by Senator Tom Apodaca had the potential to bankrupt Elizabeth City State University, Winston-Salem State University, and Fayetteville State University. What would make a state legislator think potentially eradicating three HBCUs is ok? Critics of the legislation believe that the senator intentionally went after the lower performing schools in the state because they lack large endowments and powerful supporters to advocate for new funding in the legislature. After alumni gathered together, that bill was quickly shut down
So here's what all of this says to me. We have failed to invest in our HBCUs not just financially but also in their infrastructure. If we rally together, we can save our beloved institutions and legacy
Former President of Spelman College, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, spoke a word in 1988 when she said, "If we can tithe for our churches, we can tithe for our schools. This doesn't mean we turn away from the Federal Government or from the private sector, but either we support these institutions or they will die." Not only do we need to tithe our schools, we need to make sure that our schools operate efficiently and provide the best opportunities for success to students. With FOUR HBCUs having a 6-year graduation rate over 50% we have a big problem on our hands
So instead of focusing on who is tailgating for homecoming and how great the Kappa Tea Party will be, let's focus on some real solutions that we can do before we return to the yard
- Join the national alumni association of your alma mater. From there the resources can link you with a local chapter in your city. It may seem like a club full of old people but those old people were the reason my first year at TSU was paid for. (Shout out to the Tennessee State Atlanta Alumni Chapter.) These chapters will host a fish fry or sell a t-shirt in a second if it means that one of our own gets to attend an HBCU. So join.
- Invest in our HBCUs. Yes, there is the United Negro College Fund but did you know that not every HBCU is a member college of the UNCF? Donate directly to the institution. Each institution has its own committee whose sole purpose is to raise funds. Help them out and donate today. A little can go a long way.
- Mentor incoming freshman. With enrollment declining at HBCUs we need to work to keep the talent that we have recruited. Be there from the beginning. I remember alumni helping move me into my dorm and making sure I was okay throughout my matriculation. I was extremely grateful for the hot meals and love they sent during my time in college. I also remember a few years back, alums started making baskets and dropping them off to random freshmen at their dorms during homecoming. Nothing says we love having you as a part of the family like a box of Ramen Noodles and Capri Suns. Grab your friends and make it a part of your yearly homecoming tradition.
- Update the narrative of HBCUs. For many, we can only name HBCU alumni over 50 who have made great strides in the world. But I can name two alumni of my own who are changing the NFL like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the NY Giants and Anthony Levine of the Baltimore Ravens. When we talk about notable alumni lets include the newer generations and remind prospective students that HBCUs aren't bottom of the barrel schools but great places where opportunity collides with excellence.