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Are HBCUs being watered down?

The number of non-Black students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) continues to climb.  Statistics show that the student body’s of these traditionally Black schools is changing, with an average of 1 in 4 students not being Black.  The statistics were compiled through research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.  There are multiple reasons this is happening, and here are some of them:

1. Legal Definition of HCBU

An HBCU is defined under the Higher Education Act of 1965 as a school “whose principal mission was, and is the education of Black Americans.”  What Congress did not define in this legislation is whether or not HBCU’s could continue to be classified as an HBCU if their historically Black student body changed to become mostly white.  This means that HBCU’s whose student body’s are made up of mostly white students are still able to receive federal funding meant to benefit Black students.

2. The Premature Declaration of a ‘Post-Racial World’

The election of Barack Obama is pointed to as a significant indication that we now live in a post=racial world where equal access and opportunity for Black people is the norm, making the concept of the HBCU irrelevant and even redundant.  This has perpetuated the notion that HBCU’s do not need to be preserved because they are no longer needed.  However, racial disparities still exist as evidenced by the fact that Black people still lag behind in quality-of-life indicators and education benchmarks compared to white people, meaning the declaration of a post-racial world is more a myth than a reality.

3. Forced Integration

In an attempt to enforce equal access and integration, a 1992 Supreme Court ruling led to a push by the federal and various state governments to increase the enrollment of white students and the recruitment of white faculty at HBCU’s.  Mississippi awarded HBCUs $500 million in grants in 2002 to upgrade their schools, but one of the stipulations was that schools had to have a specific number of white students and faculty in order to receive the money.  Tennessee State University faced a similar situation in 1992 when the state legislature demanded that the number of white students and faculty be increased by 50 percent by the following year or it would be shut down.

4. HBCU Budget Cuts By Obama

Obama continued the cuts to HBCU funding started by George W. Bush by decreasing the school’s budgets by up to $35 million during his first term.  During his second term, Obama made cuts to the Plus Loan program of $160 million causing more than 28,000 students to be denied loans preventing them from enrolling for the 2012 academic year.

5. Recruitment of Non-Black Students

A 2011 Wall Street Journal article, “Recruiters at Black Colleges Break From Tradition,” pointed out that multiple HBCU’s were no longer focusing their recruitment efforts exclusively on Black students.  According to the article, during the fall 2011 term, enrollment of Black students at Tennessee State University dropped by nearly 70 percent, and enrollment of Black students at Paul Quinn College was predicted to fall from 94 percent to 85 percent.

6. Reduction In Number of Black Faculty

One of the experiences many Black HBCU students look forward to is being taught by Black faculty members.  Research has shown that Black students are more likely to enroll in an HBCU and be more productive workers after graduation when HBCU faculty is mostly Black.  An example of this is Bluefield College in West Virginia where Black faculty make up less than one percent of the number in previous decades and the enrollment of Black students has fallen to under 10 percent.

7. Desegregation, Diversify or Die

As HBCUs have had to increase enrollment in order to survive, more of them have been forced to market themselves to students from a myriad of racial backgrounds.  This is also coupled with the fact that fewer Black students had to attend HBCUs in order to get a college degree once desegregation took placed.  According to research conducted by the Ford Foundation, more than 75 percent of Black college graduates attended an HBCU before desegregation.  Currently, less than one out of six Blacks who attend college go to an HBCU.

8. No Money, More Problems

HBCUs are financially strapped and are many times plagued by low graduation rates and other poor outcomes, which makes it hard for them to attract students.  They are also forced to compete with majority white institutions for funding and top students.

9. The Attack on Black Middle Class

Dr. Jahi Issa summed up this phenomenon in his article The Ethnic Cleansing of HIstorically Black Colleges & Universities, stating, “Over the past few decades, HBCUs have been targeted as being too ‘Black’ and many states are progressively trying to eliminate African Americans from these institutions that have served as a buffer zone for the Black middle class.  Some HBCUs have and are going through hostile takeovers in order to turn them into White education facilities and thereby permanently eliminating the African American middle class.”

10. Demographic Changes

Black HBCU students are being replaced by students from other ethnic groups.  Asian enrollment at HBCUs rose by 60 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to research done by the University of Pennsylvania.  Asian and Hispanic students now make up about 3 percent of HBCUs total student population.


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2 thoughts on “Are HBCUs being watered down?

  1. Kathy Johnson

    That’s an interesting issue. On one hand, I see it as a positive sign that more white people are seeing things differently and may prefer the richness and perspective that an education with emphasis on this part of our culture and history can provide. On the other hand, weren’t these colleges formed to help strengthen the voices of those who have been traditionallly silenced and should we be concerned that those voices will be. however unintentionally) once again drowned out? I respectfully defer to the judgement on this topic to people who have a better understanding of power dynamics than I do. Instinctively, I think that some mixing is good because people can learn from others with a different perspective.

  2. Leonard Peltier

    It’s just another form of slavocracy’s benefiting. Whites get enormnous breaks/cuts for attending HBCU’s. And the enslavement breaks just keep on rolling…


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