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As a proud graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), from a family of HBCU graduates, they hold a special place in my heart. Florida A&M University, my HBCU, is a place that offers a top-notch education, but that is not all. FAMU, like all HBCUs come with a certain about of grace and room to grow and learn in a safe environment free from discrimination. HBCUs foster the unapologetic exploration of black culture in America. Attending FAMU was one of the best decisions of my life.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines HBCUs as, “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education]…”

The Past

The first schools for African Americans were established primarily by black churches with support from the American Missionary Association and the Freedmen’s Bureau. But in 1837, the African Institute was formed, now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, making it the nation’s first HBCU. Its mission was to teach free African Americans skills for gainful employment. Students were taught reading, writing, and basic math alongside religion and industrial arts. During the 1850s, three more HBCUs were founded: Miner Normal School (1851) in Washington, D.C.; Lincoln University (1854) in Pennsylvania; and Wilberforce (1856) in Ohio. Wilberforce was established by the The African Methodist Episcopal Church. The majority of HBCUs originated from 1865-1900, with the greatest number f HBCUs started in 1867, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Ever wonder why some HBCUs are agriculture and mechanical universities. It begins with the Morrill Land Grant College Acts of 1862 and 1890. The first Morrill Act was passed in 1862 and it provided the establishment of a Land-Grant institution in each state. The goal was to education citizens in the fields of Agriculture, Home Economics, and the Mechanic Arts. In the South, Black Americans were not permitted to attend these institutions despite the law providing for “separate but equal” facilities. Thus, the second Morrill act was directed at the South and geared toward African American education. It required that each state show that race was not an admission criteria and if it was then a separate land-grant institution was required for persons of color. It still was not “equal”, however, because if a state had separate institutions, the act provided funds to be divided in a “just” not an equal manner. The Southern States which did not have institutions for Black Americas by 1890 each established one after the second Act. Thus, the second Merrill Act provided land grants for HBCUs. Today there are nineteen HBCU 1890 institutions and two from the 1862 Act (University of the District of Columbia and University of the Virgin Islands).

The Present

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 1,626 public colleges, 1,687 private nonprofit colleges and 985 for-profit colleges. HBCUs make up 2.3% of that for a total of 101 institutions. HBCUs today offer all manner of education: from only undergraduate degrees (59%), graduate degrees (41%), and doctoral degrees (28%). HBCUs have survived despite Jim Crow, inadequate funding, deferred maintenance, and accreditation issues. The relevance of HBCUs have been a political argument in many areas. With critics arguing that HBCUs are no longer needed and are a relic of a bygone era of segregation or that HBCUs lack diversity.

More people today, however, are aware of HBCUs and their importance. Vice President Kamala Harris (Howard University), Fair Fight Founder Stacy Abrams (Spelman College), Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms (Florida A&M University), and New York Attorney General Letitia James (Howard University), all helped last year to give HBCUs a bigger spot on the map. They helped shine a light on how critical HBCUs are to creating Black leaders. This is because HBCUs give students spaces to explore all aspects of themselves, away from racial judgments and stereotypes. HBCUs give us the freedom to make mistakes and challenge authority where no one questions the role of their race in their success.

 “HBCUs remind us all that Black ingenuity is more resilient than white supremacy.”

Melanye Price, PH.D., January 25, 2021, Elle Magazine, HBCUs Are Our Past—And Our Future

In 2012, former MIT Provost, Phillip L. Clay in a Ford Foundation White Paper, concluded that HBCU students are the next generation of community leaders, stating that HBCU students “place a higher value on community service, community leadership and civic and political engagement” than did their peers in non-HBCU institutions.

The Future

HBCU lawsuit settled

The Maryland Senate passed a $577 million settlement to a lawsuit involving the state’s four HBCUs. It still has to pass the House, but the General Assembly approved the legislation last year. It was vetoed, however, by Gov. Hogan who cited COVID considerations. The settlement stems from a 2006  lawsuit that alleged that HBCUs were being underfunded while the state was developing competing programs at traditionally white universities. In 2013, a federal judge found that the state had maintained “a dual and segregated education system” that violated the Constitution. And the state legislature is one step closer to correcting this violation. 

Grants for Eight HBCUs 

The Associated Press reported that eight historically Black colleges and universities will receive more than $650,000 in grants to preserve their campuses.

“HBCUs have long been underfunded as a result of decades of structural racism and lack of equitable public funding.”

Brent Leggs, Executive Director of the National Trust’s African American Culture Heritage Action Fund, the grant supplier

The HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative seeks to preserve HBCUs as educational institutions as well as physical spaces of historic and cultural significance. The eight schools receiving the grants are: Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina; Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi; Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee; Morgan State University in Baltimore; Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas; Spelman College in Atlanta; Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama.

The selected HBCUs will develop preservation plans for either a campuswide project or individual buildings, many of which were designed and built by Black architects.

And also this: 

The NBA recently announced that it will commit $2.5 million and resources to HBCUs as part of it All-Star Game.

Intel has pledged $5 million over the next five years to North Carolina Central, a HBCU, to create a tech law and policy center. Steven R. Rodgers, Intel’s general counsel, will join the law school’s board of visitors to help direct additional resources and support for the law school. 

Goldman Sachs announced a new five-year $25 million commitment to HBCUs. In its inaugural year, 125 HBCU first- and second-year college students will participate in the program. The students will receive hands-on training and learn fundamental finance skills in a professional setting, complementing their coursework. A case study competition, which will feature Procter & Gamble this year, will conclude the program. Students will present to senior leaders at Goldman Sachs, competing for prize donations to their institutions that will fund opportunities for future students.

The 2021 participating institutions include Florida A&M University (FAMU), Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, North Carolina A&T State University, Prairie View A&M University, and Spelman College.

My hope is that this is not a passing phase and that everyone continues to support and recognize the importance of HBCUs. These commitments cannot just be a one time thing. Years of low funding and racism, will not be overcome in one year of corporate gestures alone. 

-All Me