HBCUs expand access and success

By Larry Sutton - Contributing columnist

There is something special and unique about the HBCU experience – for me, that Aggie Pride.

Historically black colleges and universities became a blessing at a time when black Americans had few options for higher education following the Civil War and Reconstruction period in our nation’s history. During that time, racism and white hostility, in large measure, led to the development of separate institutions in the black community, creating a black world apart from whites, making it easier for blacks to associate with each other. That association with each other created “a man of education who had learned to think and aspire, to feel pride and self-respect, and above all was determined to spare nothing in his efforts to attain full American citizenship.”

W.E.B DuBois, the progressive civil rights activists of the early 20th century shared his comments on attending the historically black university of Fisk University as an enriching experience. DuBois felt “thrilled and moved to tears” and recognized “something inherently and deeply my own.” Historically, HBCUs were needed not to keep blacks in their place, but to raise them out of the places of “being a slave to society” and to help “disseminate light and hope amongst us.”

With the increasing attack on the HBCU heating up, it is my hope that this debate will bring needed attention and a better understanding of the history and the important role HBCUs have played in the making of this nation. Traditionally, HBCUs have focused on expanding access and success for black students, particularly students of least advantage, while helping to move America toward economic equity.

Absolutely, it is my contention and firm belief that historically black colleges and universities are still relevant. Making up about 3 percent of colleges in the country, the 105 historically black colleges and universities confer degrees to about 23% of all black college graduates, award 60 percent of engineering degrees earned by blacks and graduate half of all black teachers.

Additionally, HBCUs know all too well, the need for all Americans to have some measure of training beyond high school for the demands of our 21st century economy, making some post-secondary education a “must-have.”

Since we will have a greater need to educate more people, not less, as a nation we must focus and concentrate on preparing, inspiring and moving more low-income students to college completion. So, America needs to man up and vow to do more in terms of its educational support to minority and low-income students, making college more affordable and increasing funding for our HBCUs. According to former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “HBCUs must continue to play that critical role in creating equal opportunity.”

It is my fervent hope that as we continue to expand educational opportunity, raising college graduation rates, there will be a corresponding drop in America’s incarceration rates. To be sure, we do need to support and maintain our HBCUs, as they are indispensable to the nation’s future.

By Larry Sutton

Contributing columnist