Tag Archives: HBCU

Twenty-Five Percent of HBCU’s Student Body Is Non-Black: Is This the End of Majority Black Schools?

In 2014, the North Carolina Senate unanimously moved to remove a budget provision that would have given the state’s Board of Governors permission to study the closure of any school that had an enrollment decline of 20 percent between 2010 and 2013. The provision, designed specifically to give the state the power to close Elizabeth City State University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), reflects a troubling reality for the nation’s Black schools.

Despite a recent spike in Black enrollments due to a growing racial resentment that is being felt nationwide, many of the HBCUs are at the verge of financial collapse, with some — such as Wilberforce and South Carolina State University — facing the loss of accreditation due to persistent debt. Even among the more stable of the HBCUs, the reality of this cash crunch is acutely felt.

“The combination of fewer students who can arrange financial aid, coupled with high school counselors who are steering students to less expensive state and junior colleges, has resulted in lower enrollment and this trend is expected to continue,” Howard University Trustee Renee Higginbotham-Brooks wrote in her much-quoted critique letter.

“Howard will not be here in three years if we don’t make some crucial decisions now.”

The HBCU designation was established by Congress in 1965 to recognize any accredited school which was “established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans.” Many of these schools — started during Reconstruction largely in the South — traditionally represented the only opportunities that were available for African-Americans to gain educational equity. In a very real way, HBCUs are responsible for the establishment and development of the Black middle class. Today, 11 percent of all African-American college students attend HBCUs, despite HBCUs only making up only 3 percent of the nation’s educational portfolio, with 20 percent of all African-American undergraduate degree holders coming from HBCUs.

This, however, does not sway the unsettling reality that, today, many HBCUs may be historically Black, but not currently Black. Take, for example, Bluefield State College. With a student body that is 82 percent white and with no Black faculty on staff, Bluefield still counts itself as an HBCU. So does Lincoln University, which is 40 percent African-American; St. Philip’s College at 13 percent (as of 2011); and Gadsden State Community College at 21 percent. Today, more than one in every four HBCU student is non-Black.

In the case of Bluefield, the road toward the loss of its Black identity was a convoluted but familiar one. Located in a predominately white community, Bluefield lost its ability to draw Black students when West Virginia state authorities closed the school’s dorms following the 1968 bombing of the gymnasium. The bombing followed student protests regarding the state’s replacing of Black faculty and staff with less qualified white instructors.

The closing of the dorms added to the pressures of an increasingly combative attitude fueled by the school’s white president who turned the once predominately Black Bluefield into a predominately white commuter school.

Due to a quirk in federal law, a school once recognized as an HBCU will always be an HBCU, regardless of current student composition. Most HBCUs however, cannot blame their flagging Black enrollments on such blatant racial animosity.

Besides the standing argument that offering preferential treatment to schools for racial reasons is unfair, many states have used the HBCUs’ declining enrollment levels as justification for unequal distribution of resources among the public schools. In 2016, for example, North Carolina proposed cutting the tuition for three of the state’s public HBCUs — as well as potentially renaming them — in order to increase enrollment numbers. The bill made no mention how the lost tuition would be made up in the schools’ budgets.

The HBCUs’ biggest problem, however, is choice. When the HBCUs were founded, there were little choices of where African-Americans could go to school. However, Brown vs. Board of Education and the desegregation of education on the basis of race in America made it possible for Black students to choose any educational institution they qualify for to attend.

Some, however, would argue that the HBCUs are still needed because the educational system in America is still segregated, but by economic status now instead of ethnicity. HBCUs traditionally accommodate more low-income students than non-HBCUs.

“It should be noted that many HBCUs were set up to help not only newly freed African-Americans and those already free, but also to teach those from lower socioeconomic parts of our country. So, I think HBCUs should be known for having had open doors for all cultures and people of all colors since their beginnings,” Jerry Crawford II, associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas and director of the Journalism Multicultural Scholars Program, said to Atlanta Black Star.

“There are many reasons why there is a challenge to have more people of color, Blacks in this instance, attend HBCUs. These range from the lack of state funding for these schools from legislatures, to the loss of federal assistance, such as Pell Grants, to the lack of consistent governance at these institutions. Like any school or university, the ability to ‘solicit and retain the support’ of any alumni base, has a lot to do with the amount of wealth and disposable income of its graduates. Most HBCUs are primarily two or four-year institutions, with few masters programs.  There are even fewer doctoral programs.”

Crawford pointed out that this increased degree of choice has led to HBCUs being denied assets that other schools can claim, like top-tier athletics. As HBCUs are not set up to attract star talent, they are also not posed to benefit from lucrative television deals or championship appearance fees. Additionally, most HBCUs, due to a lack of alumni financial mobility, cannot call on large endowments to cushion the lean times.

A hard reality is that the graduation rate of Black college students is significantly less than that of white students. Per an Education Trust study, the six-year graduation rate for Black students is nearly 20 percentage points lower than that of white students. The study attributes this to a lack of college preparation for low-income students. Despite this, Black students at HBCUs have a graduation rate six points higher than Black students at non-HBCU schools.

“I think it is important to discuss context when engaging in discussions like these,” Shannon Waite, clinical assistant professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, told Atlanta Black Star. “Considering the target student population of HBCUs and the fiscal reality that all colleges and universities are facing right now, I do think that HBCUs are finding it imperative to stay in the black, and that may mean diversifying the student population. I also think we have to consider [that] the students who primarily attend HBCUs tend to be of low socioeconomic status, first-generation college students, and Pell Grant eligible. When you consider the demographics of the aforementioned population you have to think about how K-12 education factors into the success or failure of these students.”

The demand and need for HBCUs are still there. In light of growing racial animosity nationwide, Black students are seeking educational options that are more comfortable and accommodating to their needs. For HBCU’s the question is are they willing and able to provide the alternative education environment, remain financially stable and provide the needed resources to students looking to create avenues out of poverty.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Who Is Responsible for Gentrification In HBCU Neighborhoods?

Gentrification. A term coined during the 1960s, it’s a concept that’s become hotly contested in recent years, described by Webster’s dictionary as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

The phenomenon has become a recurring theme across the country as urban areas once deemed unsuitable for affluent home buyers have become ground zero for new development.

Many students attend Texas Southern University, a ninety-year old institution in Houston’s historic Third Ward area, in search of an authentic Black college experience. But in recent years there’s been a change in the area surrounding the school, which has witnessed a decrease in its Black population. The percentage of African-American residents in the Greater Third Ward area dropped from 79 percent to 65 percent from 2000 to 2012 alone as the pace of change accelerated.

One of Houston’s six original wards, Third Ward was once described described by distinguished Clark Atlanta sociologist and former Texas Southern University dean Robert D. Bullard as “the city’s most diverse black neighborhood and a microcosm of the larger black Houston community.”

For years Third Ward served as a bustling hub of Black ownership in Houston, the Black-owned Unity National Bank and streets like Dowling, which once boasted over 150 stores during the 1950s. Roots run deep, with residents fiercely devoted to places like Emancipation Park, a community fixture founded by former slaves: Jack Yates, Richard Book, Richard Allen and Elias Dibble.

Due to limited resources, initially the park was only open to the public once a year for Juneteenth, a celebration of the effective end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, more than two years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order declared their freedom. Since then it’s become an integral part of Third Ward’s history, serving as the only public swimming pool available to Black residents until integration during the 1950s.

The decline came gradually, after housing integration and upward mobility afforded wealthier Blacks the opportunity to move to newer subdivisions, leaving a number of dilapidated homes and shuttered businesses in their wake. Also at play was the construction of Highway 288, forcing a number of residents to give up their homes as construction expanded. As job opportunities began to dwindle, others began migrating from the area, creating a growing void in the neighborhood.

During an interview with the Houston Defender earlier this year, Gerald Womack, President and CEO of Womack Development & Investment Realtors explained, “Having ownership is important, and we have a lot of Black ownership in Third Ward. Unfortunately, many of these owners are grandchildren of the original owners, and live in other neighborhoods or out of state. Many see their properties as a burden or a drain on their finances rather than a plus. Many are selling these properties as the value goes up.”

The Defender also noted, “The vast majority of Third Ward’s Black businesses lease space, leaving them at the mercy of building owners who can increase the rent and price them out at a moment’s notice. Those that remain may find themselves dealing with a drastically different customer base.”

Meanwhile, vacancies have helped change the landscape of Third Ward, with homeowners increasingly pressed to sell their land to developers eager to insert luxury condos and townhouses into the area. Some 75 percent of residents are renters, but thanks to rates that rose nearly 5 percent from 2014 to 2015, many have found new properties out of their financial range.

For Texas Southern it’s meant a reduction of the very demographic that surrounds its campus. Once the only higher education option for African-American Houstonians, because of segregation the university has often been left to it’s own devices by Texas lawmakers, in favor of the larger — and more heavily endowed — University of Houston. Separated by only a few blocks, at times the two have competed for both land and resources, with TSU often on the losing end.

In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, John Nixon, a University of Houston law professor wrote, “What is happening in the Third Ward is a product of increased demand for inner city housing, developers who are willing to assemble land and build speculative houses to be offered to higher-income people willing to be pioneers in an area they previously shunned.”

For developers — all is fair in love and real estate — location factors heavily into the rush of new residents looking to get in on the ground floor of Third Ward’s revitalization efforts. Alyssa Gardner, a property sales representative, described the tactic to the Houston Chronicle as “We tell buyers that if you see something you like, snatch it up while you can. There are advantages to being on the edge of downtown.”

With the University of Houston actively buying up its own land in the area, officials like Texas Representative Garnet Coleman have started their own initiatives, teaming with local developers in an effort to buy land for affordable housing.

Residents are wary, with many able to recall the decline of the neighboring Fourth Ward. An early example of gentrification, for years residents fought to preserve the area once known as Freedman’s Town, founded by newly freed slaves. Settling along the flood-prone Buffalo Bayou, early residents worked hard to build their own community, paving their own bricks along hand-erected shanties.

Eager to protect the integrity of the community, for years residents fought to protect it, including a famous protest to retain Allen Parkway Village. Initially a whites-only property, thanks to integration it was later converted into a 963-unit public housing community.

Following a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the city of Houston demolished 677 units, under the provision that the site be used to provide low-income housing. The property was later added to the National Register of Historic Places, saving it from demolition, but other areas didn’t fare as well. In 1984, over 530 historic buildings had been registered: twenty years later, less than 30 remained.

After a series of losses at the hands of developers, Fourth Ward, which once boasted historic landmarks like West End Park — Houston’s first baseball venue for Negro leagues games — would see a sudden increase in mid-rise complexes and luxury properties in the late 1990s.

It’s a cautionary tale that former Houston Mayor Annise Parker described as “That was the downfall of Freedmen’s Town. That’s when most of the historic elements were moved or torn down so developers could put up townhouses.”

Even the 100-year-old bricks laid in Freedman’s Town came under fire, with some destroyed entirely, mistakenly dug up by city workers during drainage repairs last year. Yet another blow to a community still reeling from it’s erasure. 

While some homeowners were able to take advantage of rising property values and escape the concurrent rising tax bills, others were not, including those living in areas hit hard by the crack epidemic. Left a shell of its former self, eventually Fourth Ward was assimilated into the newly minted Midtown.

Fearing the erasure of their own community, members of Third Ward have come together in an effort to educate and assist residents, including organizations like the Sankofa Research Institute and Project Row Houses, who have worked to preserve the community and increase ownership throughout the Greater Third Ward area.

Depending upon whom you ask, Third Ward’s transformation has been long in the making, with some eager to revamp the shotgun-style houses that dot the area. As Third Ward has changed, neighborhoods previously shunned by white students and young couples have become a haven for those that wouldn’t even go near the area five years ago.

TSU graduate Linda Williams expressed her views on the area she once called home by saying, “With urban planning and development, much of the historical context of Houston’s Third Ward area has been taken over the past five years. It’s become a culture shock for many residents in the area and has caused financial frustration to those who are struggling to keep businesses open and afloat.”

While some businesses, including the longstanding Wolf’s Department Store, have managed to keep it together, others haven’t been as lucky, with spots like Dowling Theater long gone.

According to Roderick “Bass” Tillman, Program Director of Third Ward after-school program Workshop Houston, a number of school closures have also accelerated the issue. Following the closure of Ryan Middle School, students were forced to relocate to Cullen Middle, a nearby school in Houston’s southeast area.

“I’ve been here since 2011,” Tillman explained. “Since then, the middle school that most of our students come from has been closed. In Third Ward itself, you see less kids around, less population because most of it is under construction. I think kids are searching for answers. At first it was a no-brainer that they’d go to schools in their neighborhoods. Now they face tough decisions on where they can go, because those schools just don’t exist anymore,” he said.

But after years of declining properties and vacant lots, others are eager for fresh changes and revitalization to the area, including a recent $33 million redesign of the 11.7-acre Emancipation Park.

Citing the recent progress made in the area, former Third Ward resident Elliot Guidry shared his own thoughts about the situation, “Don’t we want better for ourselves?” Guidry said. “Is it a bad thing to want to see the neighborhood you were born and raised in get uplifted? For that matter, TSU has gotten a major facelift. I love seeing the evolution of my neighborhood.”

But for others, it’s not so simple, including Third Ward resident Hope Carter. Carter said, “I’m a fan of the revitalization of my neighborhood, but not to appease people who are coming in.

“They’re taking over in the name of progress, but at the same time making everything else too expensive for the people who already live there,” Carter added. “Older people are having their property values lowered because they can no longer see the skyline. I’m not mad at revitalization as long as the improvements are for people who live there. A lot of times it feels as if all of these improvements were intended for someone else.”

Houston is not alone. Exploring the effects of gentrification on neighborhoods surrounding black universities, NPR recently highlighted the erosion of the Black working class near Washington, D.C.’s famed Howard University.

Similar to Texas Southern — Howard’s improvements to impoverished areas in the neighborhood also a drew an influx of new faces  — causing rents and property values to rise as new construction brought wealthier residents in. For new students it’s meant a very different experience, as predominately black neighborhoods around a number of HBCUs continue to decrease.

It’s a reality that Darren Jones, president of the civic association in D.C.’s Pleasant Plains neighborhood, fears will become the new norm. The cost of living in an area now deemed a hot spot.

Addressing the difficulties facing property owners, he explained how his son has been affected. “His assessment is going to go from $400,000 to, well, maybe not $700,000, but something much higher,” Jones told NPR. “But the city is going to say your house is worth what the house is worth next door, which is not true because we can’t sell it for $700,000.”

Jones admitted that he is fearful for the future of his community, saying, “I’m afraid for my son because he grew up in this neighborhood and he would like to stay.”

Some cities are taking their own steps to address the effects of gentrification, including Houston, which rolled out a new program in April designed to revitalize a number of Houston areas, including Third Ward.

Unveiled by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jones proclaimed, “This is going to be a signature of my administration because it is so important to the families who live in these neighborhoods.

“We must not be a city of haves and have-nots. Every Houstonian has a right to make the choice I have made and live in the neighborhood where he or she grew up. With a more focused approach that involves the communities as well as partners in the public, private and nonprofit sectors, we can transform these neighborhoods. We are going to do this while striving to preserve affordability for existing residents, and we will not leave until we know what we have done will have a high likelihood of success.”

While the resilience of Third Ward is undiminished, the ability to preserve itself is not. Ultimately, the community will need more than legislation to address the issue, including a multi-pronged approach that tackles comprehensive revitalization without compromising affordable housing or the rich history of it’s residents.

During an interview with Rice University’s Kinder Institute, Project Row House Executive Director Eureka Gilkey shared the work that lies ahead: “We can’t halt gentrification; it’s already happening — but we have an opportunity to change the way this process works.

By Cecilia Smith/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Did Trump Bamboozle HBCU Presidents? His Delay In Appointing a Director of the Initiative Shows They Are Not a Priority

When President Donald Trump met with leaders from historically Black colleges and universities in February, it sparked a backlash. Students and alumni criticized the decision of HBCU presidents to meet with a man who paved his way to the White House by making a series of offensive comments about African-Americans and other racial groups. At Howard University, graffiti turned up criticizing the school’s president, Wayne Frederick, for accepting the meeting.

“Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A.I. Frederick” read one message. Another mimicked Kanye West’s criticism of George W. Bush: “Wayne Frederick Doesn’t Care About Black People.”

But at the time, HBCU leaders thought the executive order Trump had signed regarding Black colleges was revolutionary. The order shifted the Initiative on HBCUs from the Department of Education to the White House’s executive office with the goal of making these educational institutions more financially stable and economically empowering for students. Fast forward to August, however, and not only haven’t HBCUs received any additional funding from the federal government, but Trump also has yet to appoint an executive director for the initiative, casting doubt on his claim earlier this year that supporting HBCUs was an “absolute priority.”

Naming a leader for the initiative is “the next step in saying HBCUs are important,” Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough told Inside Higher Ed.

“I look at it as another opportunity to share the message of HBCUs as well as to have someone, in a way, lobbying for HBCUs every day within the federal government. So, I think that’s a tremendous opportunity,” he said.

The initiative dates back to President Jimmy Carter’s administration. During recent years, though, leadership has been spotty. John Sylvanus Wilson led the initiative during President Barack Obama’s first term, but since he vacated the post in 2012 to serve as Morehouse College’s president, three different people have headed the initiative.

According to a White House spokesman, the Trump administration has selected finalists for the position but hasn’t yet chosen an appointee. Leonard Haynes, executive director of the initiative during President George W. Bush’s administration, helped Trump write the executive order on HBCUs but explained that he’s not interested in leading the program again. While the Trump administration has left many appointments unfilled, it’s particularly worrisome that the Initiative on HBCUs has no leader, since the annual HBCU Week Conference takes place next month. Traditionally, the initiative oversees the event. Kimbrough said it’s important to have an executive director by September, because of the upcoming conference and also because of Trump’s strained relationship with the African-American community.

Throughout his campaign, Trump made disparaging remarks about Blacks, suggesting that African-Americans largely live in inner cities overrun with crime, despite research that shows the opposite is true. Trump, who publicly called for the execution of the Central Park Five, the group of Black and Latino teens falsely accused of beating and raping a jogger in the New York City landmark in 1989, refused to apologize when evidence vindicated them. And in January, Trump attacked U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), a civil rights icon, on Twitter.

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to……mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!” Trump said on the social networking site, prompting outcry even from fellow Republicans. Moreover, the fact that Trump has previously faced allegations of housing discrimination certainly doesn’t help how African-Americans perceive him.

Dillard’s Kimbrough suggests that fulfilling his promise to HBCUs can help Trump improve his relationship with Blacks.

“A really good person has to say, ‘How do I assure people in the African-American community that I am still committed to the causes of the African-American community?’ knowing that there might be some things that the president does that might be diametrically opposed to the interests of African-Americans?” he told Inside Higher Ed.

But Trump appears to be doing little to repair his relationship with the Black community or with the HBCU leaders he met with five months ago. Since meeting with the group, he’s slashed funding for grant and work-study programs upon which many HBCU students rely. He’s refused to attend events organized by civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the National Urban League. Plus, in May, he questioned whether HBCUs could legally receive aid from the federal government. That’s because Trump apparently thought HBCUs weren’t open to non-Black students and, thus, discriminatory, despite the fact that whites and non-Black students of color have attended HBCUs for years. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems just as uninformed about HBCUs as Trump, describing them as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” even though they came to be because mainstream universities and colleges denied admission to Black people.

While the leaders who met with Trump in February probably don’t want to hear “I told you so” from all of the naysayers, it appears increasingly clear that the man who agreed to settle a $25 million fraud lawsuit connected to Trump University likely bamboozled them, too.

Morehouse President Wilson saw the writing on the wall months ago when Trump’s budget did not allocate additional funding to HBCUs.

“I don’t mind saying that we were — a number of us — were disappointed, not because of what we thought on our own leading up to this meeting, but what we were led to think,” Wilson said. “And so I think it was a little underwhelming to see that the most tangible differentiator that happened here was an office relocation.”

 By Nadra Nittle/AtlantaBlackStar
Posted by The NON-Conformist

Is There Still a Place for HBCUs In Trump’s New America?

By most conservative estimates, the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities are on life support. A combination of gaps in federal and state funding, alumni contributions and student enrollment has many of the institutions in this essential portion of the Black education portfolio desperately seeking options, with several close to shutting their doors.

While the recent chain of “misstatements” by the Trump administration represents the perceived lack of faith the Black community has with Republican promises to protect Black education, it actually represents a lack of sensitivity and understanding of how precarious a situation Black higher education faces today.

“We are deeply concerned about the proposals highlighted for the U.S. Department of Education, which include flat funding for the core Title III Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) program and deep cuts to federal student aid programs,” wrote Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund in a letter to the OMB.

“The proposed $3.9 billion cut to Pell Grant funds would undercut needed reforms to boost the purchasing power of Pell Grants for financially needy students, including the 70 percent of HBCU students who receive Pell Grants to earn college degrees. The proposed elimination of Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, which supplement Pell awards to the poorest students to pay college tuition, would negatively impact more than 55,000 HBCU students who rely on this assistance to go to and through college. Reductions to Federal Work Study could impact more than 26,000 HBCU students who receive work-study jobs that not only help pay for college expenses but also enhance their employment prospects.“

While “HBCU” may be a relatively new designation, the distinction refers to the Southern states’ refusal to integrate higher education. The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 allowed for federal one-to-one funding with the states for the purpose of starting and operating land-grant colleges. This funding, however, can only be made available to states that offer access to the land-grant colleges to African-Americans. The institutions that would become the HBCUs were attempts by the Southern states to qualify for Morrill Act funding while not having to integrate any of their schools

While African-American enrollment in HBCUs has dropped to nine percent of Blacks enrolled in college and while the HBCUs represent only three percent of the national higher education portfolio, the 100 HBCUs graduated 15 percent of all the bachelor degrees African-Americans received in 2013-2014. According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, 80 percent of all Black judges, 50 percent of all Black lawyers and non-HBCU professors, 40 percent of all Black engineers and 40 percent of all Black members of Congress are HBCU graduates.

HBCUs continue to be the leading source of Black higher education — especially, for low-income Blacks — in large part because they can offer a specialized focus in a largely nondiscriminative environment. However, with Black enrollment in HBCUs dropping and with the closure of Saint Paul’s College and Lewis College of Business in 2013 and the potential closing of Wilberforce, South Carolina State University and Cheney, one must ask if the HBCUs have “run their course”? If not, is there a way to save them?

The Question of Federal Funding

The chain of Trump administration fumbles regarding HBCUs — starting with the president’s assertion that funding HBCUs may be unconstitutional because it is race-based funding and continuing through the recent booing and heckling of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos during a commencement speech at Bethune-Cookman — represents an unease and sense of perceived insensitivity from Washington. While Trump has said he will do more for HBCUs than any other president, for example, a deep dive into the statements he already made suggest otherwise.

With Trump’s Feb. 28 executive order transferring oversight of HBCUs from the U.S. Department of Education to the White House, the Trump administration took symbolic and factual ownership of the federal government’s role with HBCUs. While Trump’s “America First” budget proposal seeking to maintain last year’s initial budgeting of $492 million to HBCUs suggests a commitment to honor that promise, the devil is being found in the details. According to New America Foundation estimates, the Trump proposal would actually slash funding to HBCUs by 15 percent once 2016’s additional discretionary funding is factored in.

Worse, the White House’s call for cuts to the Department of Education’s budget means a $1.3-billion reduction to the Pell Grant Program’s $10.6-billion surplus for 2017, with another $3.9 billion in cuts proposed for 2018. While it is unreasonable to think that such cuts can be introduced into this year’s budget at this point of the process, the notion of the recommendation is causing confusion between the administration’s thoughts and actions concerning HBCUs.

With 70 percent of all HBCU students requiring federal student grants and work study programs and with the Trump administration additionally planning to eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Trump’s walked-back comment on the unconstitutionality of HBCU funding seems now to be a moment of truth in a storm of political spin.

“My Administration shall treat provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender … in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment,” Trump wrote in his signing statement for H.R. 244 on May 5. Experts feel that Trump may not have understood the legal underpinnings of HBCU federal funding or the notion that the HBCU designation does not refer to the member schools’ demographics, but the mission and year of founding, when authoring the statement.

“With the advent of integration, Black students gained a plethora of new and exciting educational opportunities. High-achieving Black students are intensely recruited by well-endowed institutions in a position to provide full scholarships,” said Felicia Davis, a former United Negro College Fund official and director of the Building Green Initiative at Clark Atlanta University.

“Cash-strapped HBCUs serve a disproportionate share of lower- and moderate-income students. These institutions are dependent upon tuition from students that are dependent upon financial aid and student loans. This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that many HBCUs strive to serve students that lack a quality high school education. For some time, HBCUs were still able to recruit and sustain based upon their exceptional legacy. Millennial students seemed far removed from the era of segregation and even the civil rights movement was receding into history.”

A Part of the Puzzle

Blaming the Trump administration for all of HBCUs’ financial problems is both unfair and shortsighted. A bigger part of the problem existed long before the 2016 general election.

Per a 2013 report from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, HBCUs in Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia have reportedly not received the proper state allocations they are entitled to by law.

The Morrill Act of 1890 creates one-to-one financial support for the land-grant colleges with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the hosting state. While the USDA met its end of the HBCU funding agreement, the states only matched $188 million to the USDA’s $244 million between 2010 and 2012. The Morrill Acts provide no punishment for states that fail to meet their funding obligations. The schools themselves are obligated to match up to 50 percent of the USDA’s funds in the absence of state funding to maintain continual federal funding.

This is creating a situation where HBCUs are increasingly becoming trigger-shy in seeking grants that require matching state funds. This is a second strike for schools that do not have a strong tradition of research and development, a key component of government and charitable grant securement.

This is also creating the illusion that the Southern states are engaging in picking winners for educational funding between HBCUs and other land-grant colleges, which tend to be larger, predominately White universities.

The problem with slashes to state and federal funding is compounded by the continuing nationwide trend of millennials foregoing college to go directly into the job market. Total post-secondary enrollment in the United States has dropped 1.4 percent from fall 2015 to fall 2016, extending the declining streak to five years. While most of this figure can be attributed to students over the age of 24 opting out of continued education and a major rejection of “for-profit” colleges, enrollment from recent high school graduates also is declining.

As non-research schools, HBCUs rely principally on government funding, student tuition and alumni contributions to pay the bills. With alumni investment with HBCUs falling below levels found at PWIs, many HBCU endowments have been depleted to the point that school-based financial aid and capital projects have been ignored.

 

Finding Solutions

The road to closing the attainment and wealth gaps between African-Americans and whites is education. If HBCUs are important toward the employment viability of the African-American community, then preserving them should be a priority.

Unfortunately, HBCUs carry psychological baggage that may be causing pause in the current conservative administration. “Many of those who argue that public Black colleges should not operate at the public’s expense do so because they consider these institutions to be ‘racially identifiable’,” the policy brief “Comprehensive Funding Approaches for Historically Black Colleges and Universities” by Marybeth Gasman reads.

“Missing from this argument is that white institutions also are racially identifiable. Too often, diversity or integration is defined as ‘start with white people and add people of color.’ It is also possible, as HBCUs have shown, to begin with a base of Black students and add whites, Asians and Latinos. HBCU allies and those within the HBCU community need to make sure that others understand that HBCUs are not ‘vestiges of segregation.’”

HBCUs are finding themselves in the crosshairs of the hyper-partisanship that has consumed the nation. The booing of Devos and the revoked invitation of U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) from being the commencement speaker at Texas Southern University is creating a situation that the people being insulted by these gestures are the very same people controlling the schools’ fate.

This represents a certain level of fatalism that HBCUs have engaged in. Failure to make themselves more attractive to students, to reach out to alumni, and to restructure more toward research and STEM preparedness have led many to think that HBCUs are suffering from a self-inflicted wound that the government happens to be rubbing salt in.

“I believe the enrollment lag can primarily be attributed to four things: ‘degree quality,’ a lack of recruitment efforts, feeder school partnerships and financial aid,” Nijinsky Dix, assistant director for Trio programs at Notre Dame, said to Atlanta Black Voices. “The conversation regarding the quality of one’s degree has always existed.”

“Due to the perceptions of HBCUs as [they compare] to predominately white institutions, degrees earned from Black institutions are deemed as subpar due to a lack of or inadequate resources, faculty and wavering admission standards. For instance, if one were to review the U.S. World News report for best colleges, an HBCU does not appear until No. 124 – Howard University.”

Dix points out that a lack of high school recruitment, inadequate financial assistance and the nonexistence of strategical partnerships — which were instrumental to her enrollment in a HBCU — are working to turn away Black students from HBCUs.

The health of HBCUs lies in breaking down misperceptions. Not only must HBCUs work to help allay white fears that HBCU funding somehow disadvantages non-Black students, but they also must convince the Black community that they are not just a part of the past but a key to the future.

How this could be accomplished is yet to be determined.

“Virtually all endowments are race-based – just as it is at Harvard, as well as Howard,” Felicia Davis added. “One is historically and predominately white, while the other is Black. The difference in magnitude of their endowments can be attributed to the fact that one group labored without compensation, placing it at an economic disadvantage. Education remains a vital key to closing persistent gaps and ensuring America’s greatness for generations.

“The future of HBCUs rests largely with the Black community. Judging by the student demand for diversity, cultural validation and creative authenticity, institutions known for advancing justice and human rights have the potential to attract students from diverse backgrounds as long as the commitment to academic excellence and productive student outcomes is honored.”

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Trump questions whether key funding source for historically black colleges is constitutional


President Trump talks with leaders of historically black colleges and universities before posing for a group photo in the Oval Office in February. (Brendan Smialowski/Agence-France Presse via Getty Images)

In February, President Trump invited leaders from historically black colleges and universities to the White House, a move they hoped signaled his support for the institutions and showed an effort to give them more clout in his administration. But critics had a more cynical description of the Oval Office meeting: a photo op.

Those naysayers got more ammunition Friday after the White House released a signing statement connected to the recently approved federal funding measure. Tucked away in the last paragraph, the White House announced that it would treat a program that helps HBCUs get low-cost construction loans “in a manner consistent with the (Constitutional) requirement to afford equal protection of the laws.”

People in higher education circles worried that the statement meant that the president was planning to get rid of a capital financing program that helps historically black colleges repair, renovate and build new facilities. Congress approved the program in 1992 after finding that “HBCUs often face significant challenges in accessing traditional funding resources at reasonable rates,” according to the Education Department.

“I would rather have Trump do nothing with HBCUs — not even know they exist,” Marybeth Gasman, a University of Pennsylvania professor who has researched HBCU history, told The Washington Post. “He will see them as a handout. He doesn’t understand that he was given a leg up by his rich father. He doesn’t see that other people need help from programs because of past discrimination and inequity.”

Trump’s signing statement was blasted by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Trump’s statement is not only misinformed factually, it is not grounded in any serious constitutional analysis,” their joint statement said. “For a President who pledged to reach out to African Americans and other minorities, this statement is stunningly careless and divisive. We urge him to reconsider immediately.”

The White House said on Saturday that none of the objections cited in Trump’s signing statement signaled immediate policy changes, but were intended to preserve the president’s legal options down the line.

Trump meets with Congressional Black Caucus

 President Trump on March 22 met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House. “African American citizens have given so much to this country,” Trump said. (The Washington Post)

Then, late Sunday, the president himself tried to clarify the signing statement, saying it “does not affect my unwavering support for HBCUs and their critical education missions.”

“In February of this year, I signed an Executive Order pledging to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to provide the highest-quality education; to ensure equitable opportunities for HBCUs to participate in Federal programs; and to increase the number of college-educated Americans who feel empowered and able to advance the common good at home and abroad,” Trump said in a statement. “My commitment to the above-stated goals remains unchanged.”

The signing statement was noticed by the United Negro College Fund, which told The Post it had an informal conversation with administration officials about the HBCU loan program. The takeaway: It’s too soon to worry.

“We’re not overly alarmed at this point, based on informal reassurances and just our own knowledge of how these funding statement get put together,” Cheryl L. Smith, UNCF senior vice president of public policy and government affairs, told The Post.

She called the White House’s statement part of a “mixed record” from the administration toward HBCUs since Trump took office in January.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s first visit to a school was to Howard University, the federally chartered historically black college in the District.

And in February, after the Oval Office meeting with HBCU leaders, Vice President Pence told them, “The president and I admire the contributions of historically black colleges and universities.” He also said the Trump administration is committed to ensuring that HBCUs “get the credit and attention they deserve.”

The origins of HBCUs and why they are now struggling

Historically black colleges and universities were created before the 1960s. Many of them are now struggling financially, and the Trump administration says they will help.(Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

But many were offended when DeVos issued a statement after the meeting that praised historically black colleges as pioneers of school choice. The schools were founded at a time of racial segregation. DeVos clarified her remarks the next day, making clear that African Americans had very limited educational opportunities at the time HBCUs were started.

At that meeting, Republican lawmakers met with nearly all the HBCU presidents, listening to their concerns and priorities. The outreach from Republican leaders, however, did not translate into increased funding for the schools in the president’s budget proposal.

Historically black colleges have often looked to Democrats as natural allies, but over the past 50 years or so, HBCUs have had bipartisan support, with relatively steady funding over that time.

Student and parent debt and low graduation rates have long been concerns for many historically black colleges, but their proponents say they are essential in educating black leaders.

According to the Education Department, three-quarters of all doctorates awarded to black people, three-quarters of all black officers in the U.S. military and 80 percent of black federal judges got their undergraduate degrees at an HBCU.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., the president and chief executive of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, praised the budget proposal in a written statement Friday. “Let me be clear: flat spending for HBCUs in a president’s budget that calls for a 13 percent funding decrease to the Department of Education is a win!

“… Not everyone is happy though — some are critical of President Trump because they believe he should have significantly increased the budget for HBCUs.

“Such notions are naive in the current political environment in Washington, now run by Republicans who’ve vowed to reduce the size of government.”

In a public statement Saturday, Taylor responded to the signing provision, saying the fund had spoken to the administration and was assured there was “absolutely no plan to eliminate or challenge this program.

“We have shared with the White House our assertion that the HBCU program is not at all a race-based government effort and therefore doesn’t raise any equal protection or due process concerns because participation in the program is limited to HBCUs. HBCUs serve some of the most diverse populations in this nation and three TMCF member-schools enroll more white students than black students: West Virginia State University, Bluefield State College, and Lincoln University of Missouri.”

The United Negro College Fund, in a statement, said that they had sought clarification from the White House, as well, about the statement, and received informal assurance from White House officials that the paragraph is not intended to indicate any policy change toward HBCUs and that the Administration intends to implement the HBCU Capital Financing Program.

“Nonetheless, UNCF urges the White House to issue an official clarification of its policy to the HBCU community, as the HBCU Capital Financing program has provided tremendous value to HBCUs and the students they serve over the past 25 years.”

They gave examples of how the capital financing program has benefited such schools, allowing Bethune-Cookman University to renovate a student center and provide new student housing, Johnson C. Smith University to build a new science and technology center and so on. The program, they wrote, by statute bases eligibility not on race but on “mission, accreditation status and year the institution was established. Today, 101 HBCUs qualify for this assistance, many of which have a racially diverse student enrollment, faculty and staff.”

For example, they noted, Bluefield State College in West Virginia is designated as an HBCU, but enrolls a population that is 85 percent white and only 9 percent African American.

“The provision in President Trump’s signing statement regarding this critical HBCU program may simply be lawyers at the Office of Management and Budget being overly cautious and perhaps not fully understanding the legal basis for federal HBCU programs,” the UNCF statement continued.

“However, these programs have been thoroughly vetted by the Congress and prior Administrations, and the new Administration must eliminate any doubt as to their Constitutionality. UNCF looks forward to working with the White House and the U.S. Department of Education to continue to communicate the importance of this program and others that positively impact HBCUs and the students they have served for more than 150 years.”

By Cleve R. Wootson Jr. and Susan Svrluga/WashingtonPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Despite Some Setbacks, HBCUs Remain a Much-Needed Option for Black Students

As Spelman College celebrates its 136th anniversary today, its legacy reminds us of the role historically Black colleges and universities play in the advancement of African-Americans and why we must preserve their significance in our communities.

Ranked No. 1 among HBCUs by U.S. News & World Report, notable Spelman alumnae include Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker, playwright Pearl Cleage and former Dean of Harvard College Evelynn Hammond. The college ranks in the top 10 of women’s colleges across the country and is the second-largest producer of African-American college graduates who attend medical school.

Though Spelman stands out amongst its peers, the HBCU system has played an integral role in the upward mobility of Black Americans since its establishment following the Civil War. When Jim Crow laws attempted to keep us stuck in the past, they provided safety and opportunity, and what began as a way to keep us “separate but equal” turned into a support system that has since graduated some of our most esteemed leaders. A 2015 Gallup poll also showed that Black graduates of HBCUs fare better than those who went to non-HBCUs across a multitude of categories include financial well-being, purpose and even physical well-being. According to the poll, HBCU graduates felt more supported by their professors and had better opportunities for mentorship. Only 25 percent of Black graduates from other institutions reported that their professors cared about them as people, compared to 58 percent of graduates from HBCUs.

Despite these successes, HBCUs have struggled in recent times. Desegregation, rising incomes and more opportunities for financial aid have provided Black students with more choices, and HBCUs have seen their enrollment numbers stay relatively flat over the past 25 years with small increases in enrollment. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) figures show that in fall 2015, the combined total enrollment of all HBCUs was 293,000, compared with 234,000 in 1980. By comparison, enrollment at other universities and colleges nearly doubled during that same time.

Earlier this year, HBCU leaders went to the White House to meet with the Trump administration in hopes of securing additional funding in future years. At first encouraged by his executive order transferring oversight of a federal HBCU initiative from the Department of Education to the White House, they got a reality check not long afterward when the administration released its “America First” budget proposal. The budget cut federal education spending by 13.5 percent, and though it maintained funding for minority institutions and HBCUs at around $492 million, it eliminated the discretionary funding provided by the previous administration. This poses a problem for the 70 percent of HBCU students who rely on federal grants and work-study programs to finance their education.

Though Spelman stands out amongst its peers, the HBCU system has played an integral role in the upward mobility of Black Americans since its establishment following the Civil War. When Jim Crow laws attempted to keep us stuck in the past, they provided safety and opportunity, and what began as a way to keep us “separate but equal” turned into a support system that has since graduated some of our most esteemed leaders. A 2015 Gallup poll also showed that Black graduates of HBCUs fare better than those who went to non-HBCUs across a multitude of categories include financial well-being, purpose and even physical well-being. According to the poll, HBCU graduates felt more supported by their professors and had better opportunities for mentorship. Only 25 percent of Black graduates from other institutions reported that their professors cared about them as people, compared to 58 percent of graduates from HBCUs.

Despite these successes, HBCUs have struggled in recent times. Desegregation, rising incomes and more opportunities for financial aid have provided Black students with more choices, and HBCUs have seen their enrollment numbers stay relatively flat over the past 25 years with small increases in enrollment. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) figures show that in fall 2015, the combined total enrollment of all HBCUs was 293,000, compared with 234,000 in 1980. By comparison, enrollment at other universities and colleges nearly doubled during that same time.

Earlier this year, HBCU leaders went to the White House to meet with the Trump administration in hopes of securing additional funding in future years. At first encouraged by his executive order transferring oversight of a federal HBCU initiative from the Department of Education to the White House, they got a reality check not long afterward when the administration released its “America First” budget proposal. The budget cut federal education spending by 13.5 percent, and though it maintained funding for minority institutions and HBCUs at around $492 million, it eliminated the discretionary funding provided by the previous administration. This poses a problem for the 70 percent of HBCU students who rely on federal grants and work-study programs to finance their education.

By Danielle Dorsey/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

New Initiative Sponsors 100 HBCU Students to Attend SXSW Tech Conference

In a push to get more Black Americans involved in the world of tech, a slew of organizations have teamed up with South by Southwest Conventions and Festivals to help more than 100 African-American students attend the bustling interactive, film and music festival in Austin, Texas, this year.

Thanks to the new HBCU@SXSW initiative, 100 students from historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, were granted the opportunity to take part in one of the largest tech industry events in the country. Last year, the interactive festival attracted over 72,000 of the nation’s brightest thought leaders, investors, future partners and influencers.

While there are millions of African-Americans across the nation who are both interested in and qualified to work in the world of STEM, Blacks and other nonwhite groups remain largely underrepresented in the tech industry. Industry giants like Google, Microsoft and Facebook have taken heat in recent years over their failure to hire a workforce that’s as diverse as its consumer base. Just last year, Google’s very first diversity report showed that 30 percent of its staff was female and a mere 2 percent of its employees were Black.

HBCU@SXSW organizer Rodney Sampson saw the need for increased diversity in the tech world and decided to do something about it by sponsoring the next generation of engineers to mix and mingle with top-tier tech leaders at SXSW 2017. The inventive program was able to fund just 50 students in its first year, but more than 440 went through the onerous application process to be considered for the program this year, USA Today reported.

“We picked the students who wanted to solve the biggest problems using technology and had some pretty good ideas about it,” said Sampson, an Atlanta-based tech entrepreneur. “We’ve really kind of emancipated SXSW to a degree.”

Many of the program’s students were hand-picked from top-notch HBCUs like Morehouse College in Atlanta and D.C.’s Howard University, according to USA Today. Budding engineers also were selected from well-known institutions including New York’s Medgar Evers College, Tuskegee University and Kennesaw State University.

Leading tech companies like Google, Mail Chimp, Snapchat and Apple, among others, soon took notice of HBCU@SXSW and began funding the initiative. Currently, over 30 companies support the pro-diversity program, each putting up the estimated $3,000 it takes to send just one student to the annual festival. HBCU@SXSW hopes to expand its program in the coming years to send as many as 500 budding Black engineers to the popular event.

“Diversity grows out of the soil of inclusion,” said Cheryl Wade, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Booz Allen Hamilton, which also supports the program. “It starts with making the hires and finding the talent, but there is work to be done on the side of the companies and organizations to be sure they’re building a culture where it creates an environment that people can stick, stay and thrive.”

Rodney Sampson has not responded to requests for comment.

By Tanasia Kenney/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist