For generations Historically Black Colleges and Universities have played a key role in educating young African Americans.
During segregation, HBCUs were the only option for many African-American students, who made up almost 100 percent of their enrollment in 1950. In the 1960s that began to change as integration helped to open many doors that once were closed to African Americans.
Today only 11 percent of African-American college students choose an HBCU now that Black students have a broader choice of schools
But facing often steep declines in enrollment, these schools are struggling to survive. In the last 20 years, five HBCUs have shut down and about a dozen have dealt with accreditation issues.
The list of HBCUs facing dire financial circumstances is troubling.
Last month, South Carolina State University, that state’s only public historically Black higher education institution, had its accreditation placed on probation after the school was cited for financial problems.
In Atlanta, Morris Brown College, a 133-year-old private institution in Atlanta, filed for bankruptcy in August 2012 and has received court approval to sell some of its property.
In North Carolina, elected officials considered merging Elizabeth City State University, a public historically Black college, with another institution last year after its enrollment had dropped by 900 students in three years.
Last month, an outcry from supporters saved the school and stirred up support from the state’s Legislative Black Caucus
HBCUs are facing several unprecedented challenges.
Many are facing decreases in government funding and the threat of losing federal aid based on low retention and graduation rates. Many presidents of Black colleges are upset with recent changes by the Obama administration to the Parent PLUS loan programs, which allow parents to take out federal loans for their children. They said the changes in the way the Department of Education approves parents for loans has resulted in thousands of previously approved recipients being rejected and left unable to help pay for their children’s higher education.
In order for historically Black schools to survive, their graduates and supporters must also increase their donations. On average at historically Black colleges, only 10 percent of alumni give back.
The government also has a key role.
Marybeth Gasman, an expert on historically Black colleges and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said states should support Black colleges because they are doing the “lion’s share” of the work for first generation-students.
Many historically Black colleges serve low-income students and first-generation students. Eighty-four percent of students at historically Black schools receive Pell Grants, which are federal, need-based funds awarded to low-income students.
Many HBCUs are not all Black anymore. One of every four students at a historically Black institution is Hispanic, Asian American, White or of another ethnicity. Some largely White universities can be less integrated than historically Black colleges.
Considering the economic benefit they provide to society in moving so many Americans to the middle class, HBCUs are in need and deserve society’s help.
(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune)