The problem is that such claims are largely false, and they feed popular misunderstandings of the role of HBCUs in the 21st century. The data are clear: while a small handful of HBCUs experienced a slight increase in non-black enrollment over the last decade, most HBCUs did not. In a re-segregating society, where race and economic class matter more than ever and contemporary accounts from students of color reveal chilly racial climates at predominantly white universities across the country, the future of HBCUs is most important for black Americans. Many of these students rightly view HBCUs as one of the few remaining safe spaces for black intellectual and personal development.
There are 100 HBCUs in the United States, and over 80 percent of them are four-year colleges and universities. A tiny number, however, make most of the news — think Spelman and Morehouse Colleges, Howard and Florida A&M Universities. Despite representing only 3 percent of all U.S. higher education institutions, HBCUs enroll approximately 9 percent of all black undergraduates in higher education today, including almost 11 percent of all black students attending bachelor’s degree-granting institutions.
That’s the real story. But journalists are distracted by the idea that non-black students also attend HBCUs, because that story seems to fuel the narrative of a post-racial movement in America and leads the public to believe that HBCUs are in danger of losing the unique culture that produces the “HBCU experience.”
The fact is that between 2000 and 2010, there were as many non-black students enrolled at 10 HBCUs (mostly community colleges) as were enrolled at all other four-year HBCUs combined. Fully 50 percent of all non-black students at all HBCUs attended just those 10 colleges and universities. But four-year HBCUs experienced no increase in non-black enrollment during the 2000s. In fact, three out of four public HBCUs and many HBCUs with the largest shares of non-black enrollment experienced significant decreases in non-black enrollment between 2000-2010. In other words, most HBCUs are becoming more, not less, segregated.
These facts have been presented before, yet ignored. In 2005, the Journal for Blacks in Higher Education released a report titled, The Persisting Myth That the Black Colleges Are Becoming Whiter, which received very little attention. Contrary to what today’s headlines suggest, the facts have not changed much since 2005.
It is not only important to know that most HBCU student bodies are not becoming less black, but to understand why that is OK. Even though the overwhelming majority of black college students are enrolled at predominantly white institutions, HBCUs continue to pull their (disproportionate) weight and remain the top producers of black graduates in many disciplines. They are able to produce such results because of their explicit commitment to educating black students in nurturing and supportive environments — facts that are missed on state and federal policymakers who still largely ignore and neglect HBCUs when developing higher education policies.
For examples of this, look no further than recent policies that had detrimental consequences for HBCUs, such as the change in federal Parent PLUS loans that cost many HBCUs millions of dollars in funding through steep and sudden declines in student enrollment. Many HBCUs must already deal with being persistently and significantly underfunded compared to predominantly white universities in their state, so policy changes that may be financially inconsequential to larger state institutions have far different implications on HBCU campuses. Another more extreme, yet very real, example of the genuine disinterest for HBCUs is the constant efforts of policymakers to simply get rid of HBCUs. In 2014, North Carolina legislators proposed shutting down Elizabeth City State University because it is “small” and “unprofitable,” even though it has consistently been a top performer when it comes to graduation rates among HBCUs across the country (and because that’s what public universities are supposed to be: profitable, right? Insert sarcasm.). Even the new College Scorecard ratings system proposed by the federal government has received criticism from the HBCU community for using metrics that inherently disadvantage these institutions.
These are just a few examples out of many, but it demonstrates that these attacks on HBCUs are not relics of history. Policymakers continue to regularly demonstrate their apparent disregard for HBCUs and channel their support — both financial and otherwise — to larger, predominantly white flagships despite the accomplishments of HBCUs. So until there is evidence that equitable outcomes are being achieved when it comes to access and success for black students more broadly, and until more students of color are reporting positive experiences with regard to race on predominantly white campuses, HBCUs should and will remain critical support systems for black intellectual development in the U.S. higher education system.
C. Rob Shorette II is a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University, a former HBCU presidential aide, and a graduate of Florida A&M University. He is also the co-editor, along with Robert Palmer and Marybeth Gasman, of a forthcoming monograph in New Directions in Higher Education, Exploring Diversity at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Implications for Policy and Practice.
An essay by a blond female undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has led to discussion over whether such students are taken seriously, Boston.com reported. The piece, first published in Medium, is by Alice Zielinski and recounts how she is constantly assumed to be something other than an MIT engineering student, even when on campus, in MIT attire.
Ersula Ore, the assistant professor of English at Arizona State University who was body-slammed by campus police during a jaywalking-related arrest last year, filed a $2 million claim against the university, The Arizona Republic reported. The newspaper recently obtained, via an open records request, a notice of claim filed by Ore in November alleging that Stewart Ferrin, the officer who arrested her, used excessive force and violated her due process rights. Ore says she suffered financial, emotional and psychological damages, including post-traumatic stress, as a result of the incident, and that she continues to feel she is “not safe” in the presence of police. The university notified Ferrin this month that it intends to fire him, and he is appealing the decision. Ore’s lawyer, Daniel Ortega, said the claim will stand regardless of the outcome of Ferrin’s case. A spokesman for the university said its officials are reviewing the claim.
Dixie State University, in Utah, has traded in a statue of young Confederate soldiers for another statue, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. The university has been moving in recent years to eliminate imagery that is linked to the Confederacy.
Quinnipiac University has agreed to compensate a former student whom the institution placed on mandatory medical leave after she was diagnosed with depression, The New Haven Register reported. The university will pay off the student's loan and also pay her for emotional distress and suffering. The settlement, reached with federal authorities who charged that the university violated the student's rights, says that the university "failed to consider modifying its mandatory medical leave policy to permit the complainant to complete her course work while living off campus either online or in person." The university denied wrongdoing but said that it settled to avoid "protracted litigation."
In today's Academic Minute, Charlton McIlwain, associate professor of media, culture and communication at New York University, explores news coverage specifically about Michael Brown and the ways it did and did not focus on issues of race and ethnicity. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Dalhousie University revealed Monday that it had suspended from clinical activities 13 male dentistry students involved in a Facebook group that joked about chloroforming female students to have sex with them, among other comments, The Globe and Mailreported. The students' behavior first drew attention last month, but at the time the Canadian university's president said the students would not be suspended but would be required to attend face-to-face mediation with the women they were accused of harassing.
Pressure has grown on university administrators to take tougher action against the male dentistry students. On Monday, President Richard Florizone said the university had suspended the men from clinical activities (but not from classes) in late December but delayed announcing the punishment because of "credible" risk that some of them might do themselves harm. The men are now on campus and have access to counseling, administrators said. The temporary clinical suspension will stay in place while an academic panel considers other penalties, The Globe and Mail reported. Four faculty members at Dalhousie initiated a complaint against the male students under the student code of conduct, demanding tougher punishment.
Washington and Lee University will no longer hold classes on Martin Luther King Day, starting in 2016, The Washington Post reported. The undergraduate faculty voted in November to make the change and officials said that they would not be able to alter the academic calendar until 2016. Washington and Lee has faced criticism from some black students and others for holding classes on the federal holiday, but the university has also faced criticism for some traditionalists for efforts it has made to either limit or place in historical context Confederate symbols that have been revered by some alumni and students.