Alums of Historically Black Colleges and Universities are filled with alma mater pride. Former students continuously boast about their undergraduate experience long after graduating—how they were culturally enhanced, intellectually challenged—and even keep in touch with former professors. Arguably, no Black college graduate has the school spirit of HBCU alums.

But today it seems HBCUs are under attack.

Last month, President Barack Obama hosted a White House reception in celebration of the contributions of the 105 Black colleges and universities. Obama pledged to invest $850 million in these schools over the next decade. Shortly after, the 21st century HBCU debate fledged into full swing.

The recent anti-HBCU commentary couples a set of frightening statistics behooving us all—HBCUs alums, or not— to take a closer look. Moreover, according to recent studies over the past three years, the collegiate crests mounting the chests of metropolitan Black professionals in cafes and “it” brunch spots, are the real schools left behind.

According to Jason L. Riley, long time writer and editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, 90 percent of African Americans don’t attend HBCUs. And for the 10 percent who do, the six-year graduate rate is at 37 percent—20 percentage points below the national average, and eight percent below the average of Black students at predominately White colleges.

Riley’s article goes on to list more disappointing figures about HBCUs. Quoting a 2007 study by economists Roland Fryer of Harvard University and Michael Greenstone of MIT, the research finds that over the last 40 years, HBCU graduate’s earning power has decreased vastly. “In 1970s, HBCU matriculation was associated with higher wages and an increased probability of graduation, relative to attending a traditional college. By the 1990s, however, there is a substantial wage penalty. Overall 20 percent decline in the relative wages of HBCU graduates in two decades.” Fryer and Greenstone boldly concludes, “By some measures, HBCU attendance appears to retard Black progress.”

What’s more, Riley reports that SAT scores from students attending schools like Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, and other schools considered apart of the “Black Ivy League,” are significantly lower than those attending state schools. More plainly, the real HU is still Harvard.

And the HBCU statistical slam doesn’t end there. Enter Richard Vedder, director of the Center of College Affordability and Productivity, and economics professor at Ohio University.

Vedder backs Riley, affectionately calling him a great writer, and in words to follow his disdain for HBCUs, like: “I find the idea of race-based institutions of higher education very disturbing in this day and age.” Vedder goes on to give his empirical version of the ineffectiveness of HBCUs in a 21st century America.

Although quoting much of Riley’s piece, Vedder adds, “In the Forbes rankings (full disclosure: I am in charge of compiling them), there are some 610 schools ranked, and not one the HBCU’s makes the top half of that list.” Vedder mentions that Spelman is 59th in the US News & World Report rankings, stating that the ranking is “good but hardly the best.”

But why should HBCUs be best when statistically compared to historically White institutions? Spelman, as great as it is,  is still a school designed to educate the daughters of slaves. We can not fairly evaluate the academic progress of Black students attending HBCUs without evaluating race in America. The real question is, while Howard, Spelman, and Hampton are well endowed, does this partial government funding truly address the ailing infrastructural needs of these institutions that have lagged on since they were founded?

Many HBCU alums will admit that while they were culturally enriched—seeing students and professors campus-wide who look like them on a daily basis—most of these coveted institutions are administratively challenged. Financial aid can come through too late, and facilities and materials are vastly dated. One alum of Howard says, “The Howard financial aid office is like that one uncle who owes you money, you know he’s wrong, but he’s my uncle, and you can’t talk about him.”

Still, as Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, argues in TheGrio.com, there are a plethora of positive attributes of HBCUs to consider. Lomax reminds us that HBCUs makes up only 4 percent of all 4-year institutions but produce more than 21 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to African-Americans. Lomax continues, “A National Science Foundation study found that the top eight colleges producing African Americans who went on to get PhDs in science and engineering over the previous decade were HBCUs—ahead of Harvard, UC-Berkley, MIT, Brown and Stanford.”

It seems that as we progress further into a largely imaginative post-racial society, all Black institutions, from sororities to universities, are being called to task on relevancy and effectiveness. All the more reason for us to step our collective game up.

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  • Melanie

    Yes, if you constantly screw over a group of people and their colleges, the stats are going to be lower. Fucking duh. That’s really not a surprise.

    And this is ridiculous: “I find the idea of race-based institutions of higher education very disturbing in this day and age.”
    People are angry because _maybe_ I might want to go to a college where I will have to deal with significantly less racist bullshit? Where I might get to see more than three people who look like me everyday? Where I might not hear, “I just don’t find brown skin attractive”? I am terrible. Clearly. That is just. How could I? Instead I should go to an HWCU (fucking all of them). That will truly cement my racial progressiveness. Because white is the default, you know, so it’s not worth pointing out that these are historically white institutions that black people were legally barred from attending at one point, and that many black people are effectively barred from attending even now.

  • Kate

    I believe that it is time we look past the differences and accept the new more diverse way of living. I attend a predominately white college! Yes it is sometimes a little wierd being that I am always the only black student in my course. Yet, there are other blacks who attend my school although the rate is very low. I have made friends with my classmates and other students on campus who are white. I don’t see the reason to attend an HBCU because we are not segregated and it gives students little options to view other cultures and ethnic groups. There are asian, arabs, white and black students at my school who excel well above the standards. I am not saying that people shouldn’t attend HBCU’s if the choose to but attending a predominately or more diverse university or college can be an A+. I’ve never felt so relieved in my life to participate in educational activities, my school offers a full scholarship for studying abroad and every semester I strive for good academics. I’ve been on the deans list twice and coming from a less priviliged background than my peers I give my self credit for my accomplishments. Every African American doesn’t come from a broken home of a mom and a dad on the other side of town. A wealthy family on one side and a unfortuante family on the otherside with different views in beliefs. Yet, I am fortunate to attend a school that expands my learning opportunities and resources. I have great professor who actually are professors and not TA’s! Each one of my business professors are either business owners or have work for major coporations. Many of my English professors were film writers, editors for big film directors and play writers. Once again it is okay to attend the school of your choice but give yourself a push and show people that you can excel in academics set above standards.

  • Ginger

    I went to a predominately white state school and loved my experience. Still, I can appreciate HBCU’s and hope the best for their continued growth.

    However, some of the Black students from HBCU’s in my grad program are really quick to put down predominately white institutions (although our grad program is at one). From my experiences, they aren’t any better off. The women are MORE catty than any Black woman from a state school. In fact, a couple are self-hating. I know this doesn’t represent every HBCU grad but their bad-mouthing my “black experience” at a big state school is laughable.

    So, if the feeling of brotherhood/sisterhood wasn’t fostered from their time at an HBCU, what’s the real benefit? (I’m not asking in a snarky way…I just really have no clue).