Once a beacon of hope for thousands of Black students denied access to higher education by predominantly White institutions, historically Black colleges and universities have educated generations of Black scientists, doctors, lawyers, educators and social activists. But today, these institutions face serious challenges. Questions of relevance have reached a fever pitch as today’s Black colleges work to address declining enrollment, low graduation rates and financial instability. Despite the challenges, however, HBCUs for many Black students – and others – remain the last best hope of succeeding in the higher education arena. As the age-old debate for and against Black colleges rages on, Diverse has identified five threats facing HBCUs and five opportunities that could define their futures.
The peril of weak endowments and low alumni giving is consequential in the economic environment. HBCU endowment information is hard to come by. Just five schools responded to the National Association of College and University Business Officers Endowment Survey. For those that responded, the average endowment market value was $244.7 million, compared with an average of $521.9 million for all non-Black institutions. The proposed sale of portions of Fisk University’s prized art collection donated by Georgia O’Keefe to raise much-needed cash and the proposal by the Georgia state Legislature to merge financially troubled Savannah State and Armstrong Atlantic State Universities to cut costs illustrate the financial volatility impacting many Black colleges.
Decoders of Disparities: HBCUs have the propensity to lead higher education in disparity research. Research that documents racial and ethnic health disparities can play a key role in understanding and eliminating such disparities. The major funding organizations, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, have struggled for decades in trying to get at the root causes of racial disparities. A key player could and should be HBCUs. Take the qualified teacher disparity that is closely tied to the achievement gap: Even a cursory review of the statistics indicates that HBCUs are the nation’s premier institutions for graduating Black teachers. Yet these programs continue to be underfunded at the state and federal level.
Global Influence: HBCU students and faculty continue to carry the torch of academic excellence to other countries, building linkages throughout the African Diaspora and expanding the global impact of Black institutions. Florida A&M University President James Ammons signed an agreement with a Canadian organization that will allow FAMU students to intern in Cairo, Egypt. Howard University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders served communities in Kenya and Brazil this year. Spelman students helped to build a library for the 10,000 Girls program in Senegal.
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