If you start by tying together a bunch of surface observations – and deliberately ignore the causal factors lurking in the background – it’s easy to come up with the conclusions Jason Riley spewed in the Wall Street Journal in his article titled, “Black Colleges Need a New Mission. Once an essential response to racism, they are now academically inferior.” But a review of pertinent facts reveals that the “Ivory Tower” researchers he’s quoting are so focused on their desired outcome that they have missed all the clues about the success of Black colleges.
This is an old song, sung by administrators at traditionally White colleges in state higher education systems: Since historically Black colleges and universities are vestiges of the discrimination of the past, they no longer have viable roles. Moreover, since they have had historically lower graduation rates, we’re doing a better job with Black students. Finally, since we in the traditionally White educational programs are under intense pressure to support diversity, closing the HBCUs or merging them into our campuses would solve that problem.
Examine such claims up close, however, and the picture looks entirely different.
Historically Black colleges and universities are still the only institutions willing to accept many of the poorest Black students from very underserved communities. Not only are these institutions more willing to consider students whose academic backgrounds and records make them less attractive to the so-called mainstream schools, they also cost less to attend than many mainstream schools.
The success of the NAICU schools (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities) in supporting “Need-Blind” admissions programs and privately supported financial aid for nearly all of their students is but a back-handed reflection of that reality. Ronald Reagan and his right-wing cohorts’ signal success in higher education was the bogus idea that college education is not a public good – with benefits for the whole society – but a private good, narrowly benefitting only the graduate and his or her immediate family. Thus, it was okay to cut financial aid for those needing it the most—the families languishing in underserved communities, for whom education is the only viable pathway to improvement in economic participation and better participation in society at large.
The idea that traditionally White institutions somehow do better at educating Black students falls completely apart when you look closely at two facts: First, HBCU graduates STILL are vastly more likely to pursue post-graduate study; and second, that over the quarter of a century CCG and the Council of Deans of the HBCU Engineering Schools have been hosting the Black Engineer of the Year Awards, a large majority of the corporate and government top performers marching across the winners’ stage have been HBCU graduates. Those corporate go-getters like Rod Adkins and Art Johnson certainly were not held back by having completed their educations at HBCUs, and their employers clearly were not held back from hiring them, appreciating their contributions and promoting them, despite what the would-be researchers Riley is quoting believe.
Let’s sharpen the focus here. Bellcore, before it was bought out and merged into a larger concern, wanted to try out some HBCU students in the mix of high-performing students from elite colleges writing network control interfaces and other software. The Morgan State students completed their assignments brilliantly and early, heading back to supervisors to ask for more work. Sanjiv Ahuja, Bellcore’s president and COO, was so impressed that he journeyed to Baltimore to see for himself what kind of institution had trained them so well. “I decided to come here and recruit more students to come to Bellcore,” he said. “I want all of you to come to work for us.” The Morgan students had not only matched their counterparts from the elite schools Riley touts – they had outperformed them.
Black colleges are expanding, not shrinking. Look at Howard’s aggressive building activity over the Patrick Swygert years; look at Morgan’s, under the estimable Dr. Earl Richardson. Look at Hampton’s growth, or the addition of new engineering schools at Virginia State, Norfolk State, Alabama A&M and Jackson State. Their students’ SAT scores would get them into many of the traditionally White institutions they eschewed. But as the National Institute of Medicine pointed out in its short report on Blacks in the sciences, and as the more recent Bayer study showed, Blacks enter traditionally White “mainstream” institutions with the same inclination to pursue STEM careers as White students, but then they get dissuaded by White faculty and administrators. That just doesn’t happen at HBCUs.
So, enough of Riley’s balderdash. We’ve rebutted it time and time again. At the end of the day, Black colleges are not going to dry up and blow away, despite the earnest wishes of Jason Riley and his “Ivory Tower” friends. The need for HBCUs is still extant, their achievements are unassailable, and their graduates continue to march on into the bright blue future.
Tyrone D. Taborn is the publisher and editor-in-chief of DiversityGPS.com and Career Communications Group. Garland L. Thompson, Esq., is the contributing editor, “US Black Engineer & Information Technology.” The full version of this article can be found at http://diversitygps.com/response-to-wsj-article-black-colleges-need-a-new-mission-once-an-essent-p136-103.htm