Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Posted by John S. Wilson at 8:30 AM
By Andre Serrette
Over the past decade or so, I have read numerous articles and arguments about whether or not historically black colleges and universities are necessary or even relevant in today’s society. From the perspective of the black community, HBCUs are extremely relevant, as they still produce the most black professionals that exist in the country today along with giving black students a strong sense of pride about their heritage.
On the contrary, much of the non-black community feels that HBCUs are not necessary anymore, as there is now more of an equal opportunity to get into all colleges and universities in addition to the fact that many of the top black students in the country choose to go to the elite schools rather than attend an HBCU. The views on HBCUs seem to be polarizing more and more as time passes. I was asked by a very well-respected individual and professor in the HBCU academic arena, Marybeth Gasman, "What can HBCUs do to get more of a voice?" As it stands now, they do not have much of a voice because they are not respected as much as other colleges and universities. HBCUs are going to have to earn more respect because it will not be given to them under the status quo.
There have been some incredible individuals that have graduated from HBCUs, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. DuBois. However, that is where much of the problem lies. Outside of the sports and entertainment industries, the famous alumni that we are quick to identify and use to assist in the HBCU relevancy argument graduated many decades ago when racism was a part of the norm in society and the opportunity to attend a predominantly white college or university was relatively small.
The famous alumni that have graduated in more recent decades are usually actors, rappers, singers, or professionals in sports. It does not help the argument regarding the relevancy of HBCUs when most of the more recent famous alumni are all entertainers in some sort of capacity and it certainly does not help when the more prominent black individuals in today’s society who are not entertainers did not go to HBCUs. If you do not believe me, think of some prominent black non-entertainers and or research where they went to college. I can assure you that almost everyone you think of did not go to an HBCU.
I have never been a huge fan of collegiate rankings, but look at the rankings for the top-rated HBCUs. For the sake of this article, look at the U.S. News rankings, which usually tends to be the most prestigious when it comes to a collegiate ranking guide. According to the U.S. News top HBCU rankings, the top three colleges, in order, are Spelman, Howard, and Morehouse. Once again, these are the top three black colleges. However, look at them compared to all of the other colleges and universities. Spelman is the #1 black college, yet it is ranked #59 on the rankings for the best liberal arts colleges and Morehouse is ranked #127 on the same list while Howard is #104 on the best national universities list. Compared to other HBCUs, these schools are the best of the best, but compared to other colleges and universities, these HBCUs are very, very average in the eyes of others, which also means most of the other HBCUs are not even taken seriously. And I will not even begin to list the retention and graduation rates of some HBCUs along with some of the grade point averages and test scores of the incoming classes.
While it is extremely admirable that HBCUs give underprivileged students who are not as prepared an opportunity to advance their education (similar to state colleges and universities), the standards cannot be so low to where they are not even respectable anymore when compared to the standards of non-HBCUs (the statistics are almost comical in many cases). The top HBCUs should not be on the same plateau as a state college or university and there has to be at least one or two HBCUs that are among the elite when compared to other non-HBCUs. They must reach a level to where they attract the elite black students throughout the country and to a point where a student with a 3.7 GPA is not offered a full scholarship and is not one of the best students in the incoming class, but is still vigorously competing with the other applicants to even get into the schools. They must reach a level to where they are consistently producing Rhodes Scholars, Fulbright Scholars, and other top students that show the schools are not only admitting these students, but grooming them to be extremely high achievers. Having one or two schools that are elite will prove that HBCUs are capable of competing at a high level and is the only way that the others will listen and respect what other HBCUs have to say and offer.
We take so much pride in saying HBCUs produce the most black professionals. While that may be true, it is not necessarily because we are the best. If the majority of black students go to HBCUs, it is a given that HBCUs will produce the most black professionals. In addition, most companies and universities pride themselves on being as diverse as possible. Being diverse in today’s society is similar to "going green"... it’s the "in-thing"... it’s the thing to be. If you are a company and you are looking to bring in more blacks, are you going to search a regular college where the black student population is probably less than 5% of the entire student body or would you go directly to the source and search a college where 99% of the student population is black?
Let me conclude by saying that my alma mater is the University of Southern California and I received an absolutely incredible education from there. During my undergraduate and graduate studies there, I had some of the best professors and mentors imaginable. I was a part of track and field team for four fantastic years, and I was even the captain of the team during my senior year. For all six years that I attended the school, I was also a part of Athletes in Action, which is a Christian ministry geared towards athletes. From the day I first stepped foot on the campus until today, the school has done nothing but embrace me and let it be known that I am a Trojan forever. It is almost to the point where I bleed cardinal and gold, which are the school colors. However, while I do not regret my decision to attend USC for my undergraduate coursework, I do wish I would have followed my original plan to attend Howard University for my graduate coursework. I will not go into detail about why I wish I would have gone there (I’ll save that for a different day), but I say that because I do not want anyone to feel like I am belittling HBCUs. I wrote this because I am challenging HBCUs to earn the respect... to be heard... to be better... we can do better!