Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Another HBCU on the Brink?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Clark Atlanta University in the Atlanta University Center (the largest African-American consortium of higher education in the United States), also known as the AUC has implemented a hiring freeze and cut back on raises to save money after about 240 fewer students than expected enrolled during the school's chaotic fall registration, school officials said this week. There are reports that there has been a 5 percent drop-off in undergraduate enrollment and an 11 percent dip in graduate student enrollment, to 4,271 total students.

With tuition and associated costs at over $30,000 per year, about half of the students who did not enroll cited issues with financial aid or housing.

Read the entire AJC article here.

Another Atlanta University Center school - Morris Brown College - was mired in a financial aid scandal which caused the school to lose its accreditation in 2002 (meaning students cannot receive federal or state financial aid for their school expenses). As of the Fall 2007 semester, Morris Brown College is scratching for survival with fewer than 100 students and a handful of faculty members. It appears that the only two viable colleges left in the AUC are all-male Morehouse College and all-female Spelman College.

All of the member schools in the Atlanta University Center are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Most of the schools began as small glorified training schools to educate freedman after the Civil War and have a rich, long-standing place in the annals of African-American history. Prior to the 21st century, most African-American students who went to college were educated at an HBCU.

plez sez: everything has a time and a place. our oldest HBCU's served the Black community and America at a time when this country didn't know what to do with its newly freed chattel. when southern colleges and universities would not open their doors to Black Americans for close to a century after the end of slavery, these HBCU's were there to educate, motivate, and uplift the race.

i'm afraid that in the 21st century, the time for many (if not most) of the HBCU's has passed. the top students that once had limited opportunities to attend college now have a vast array of choices, most state universities have better/newer facilities, better trained faculty, more financial resources, lower tuition costs, better networking opportunities, and a global student population that cannot be found on a majority of the HBCU's. the issue of strained budgets, higher percentage of students needing financial aid, over-inflated faculty salaries, and dwindling student population is not confined to Clark Atlanta University. these same financial woes drove the administration of Morris Brown College to embezzle federal funds to keep that school afloat for as long as it did, and now it sits barely functional as an institution of higher learning and more a shell of its former tenuous existence.

look at a list of top colleges and universities in the United States and you'll wonder if these 114 historically black colleges even exist. save a handful of these schools (ex. Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, Hampton, Fisk, and Tuskegee), most HBCU's are irrelevant when speaking about HBCU's! in a country where Black people are no longer the largest minority, segregating our students in an educational ghetto is not uplifting the race. my two oldest brothers attended HBCU's, the quality of their education was vastly inferior to the education that the rest of my siblings and plezWorld received at mainstream universities. most of these schools are small (less than 10,000 students), private (with costs over $30,000 per year), old (most are over 100 years old), and financially strapped (with low alumni support).

read the HBCU Ranking in the US News & World Report.

i am thisshort of proposing the dismantling of the current HBCU "system," but i would entertain the contraction of the system. combine schools, such as those in the AUC into a larger more viable university. instead of having 4 small colleges, why not create one much larger university that reduces redundant function, cuts out the waste, and enhances the college experience. instead of Morehouse, Spelman, Clark, and Morris Brown as separate schools, create the Atlanta University. for those traditionalists, each campus could maintain a portion of their traditional identity (similar to what is done at Rutgers University in New Jersey), while having a student population that can support a true educational institution of higher learning.

similarly, this model can be extended around the country where traditional HBCU's can be absorbed or contracted into larger more viable HBCU's or mainstream state universities (for example, combine Florida A&M University with Florida State University, and combine South Carolina State University with University of South Carolina).

if you are a graduate of a HBCU, you will probably think what i wrote is heresy, but change is constant and inevitable. when one looks at the current state of HBCU's in the United States, to my way of thinking, it would be wise to be the cause of change rather than letting the change happen to you! the issues at Clark Atlanta University and Morris Brown College are not unique within the HBCU community, and it is only a matter of time before more and more of these historical educational monuments begin to disappear into the dust from which they arose.

plezWorld family education. My two oldest brothers graduated from HBCU's: Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) and Virginia State College (now Virginia State University). My third brother and sister graduated from University of Pennsylvania (Penn undergrad and medical school) and Rutgers University (The State University of New Jersey), respectively. My niece graduated from Old Dominion University (ODU). My mother-in-law and father-in-law graduated from Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University). My wife's brother graduated from Kansas State University. My wife graduated from University of Georgia (UGA). I graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) which is just a few miles from the AUC.

Neither of my parents attended a four-year college or university, but as you can see, they were fanatics about ensuring that all of their children were college graduates.


FERGIE said...

I myself am a HBCU graduate myself - CAU as a matter of fact and the unfortunate thing is your post presents a well thought out valid point of view. There is a large part of me that wants to reject this notion but the fact of the matter is unless these schools revamp in a major way there is no way that they will remain competitive. Gone are the days when you send your kids to the same school you went to for tradition sake. Heck they aren’t even handing out scholarships and tuition is outrageous. It still blows my mind that in this day and age students still stand in line for days to just get registered. Equipment tends to be sub par, and the education offered tends to be inferior. It is my sincere hope that the days of HBCU relevancy are gone, but it looks like the writing is on the wall.

plez... said...


i have to admit, this had to have been one of the toughest posts i've had to write. i sat on this for close to a week before posting it. i have brothers, cousins, close friends, frat brothers who are proud graduates of our HBCU System. it really hurts to see something that is genuinely African-American (like no other institution in the country) begin to crumble before our eyes.

but with the change in the economy, the upward mobility of Blacks, and the abundance of CHOICE that is available, it just seems that other than some traditional devotion to a particular school because of family ties, i can't see why a student in 2007 or 2008 would seriously consider a college/university that is as unstable as many of our HBCU's.

i started college in the early 1980's and even then, i didn't consider an HBCU as a viable option for my higher education. i went to a state school (Georgia Tech) and majored in electrical engineering. Tech cost less than the private school tuition at most HBCU's, offered more financial aid and scholarships (i received a full academic scholarship), was much larger, had newer/nicer facilities, had an international student population, had a top ranked engineering program, and graduated more Black engineers per year than all HBCU's except Prairie View. it was a no-brainer.

i have friends who tell me HORROR stories of day long waits to get financial aid, lack of adequate housing, bad cafeteria food, and lack of proper facilities. and the AUC appears to lack the efficiency that could be corrected by just combining the schools into one, to eliminate 4 police forces, 4 administrations, 4 duplicated faculties, 4 physical plants, 4 maintenance organizations, 4 different athletic departments, etc... i can only imagine how the AUC could be transformed into a top notch university (not HBCU) if all of those smaller schools became one LARGE one.

i pray that these school leaders come to their senses and realize that these HBCU's will be much stronger if they work together. i sincerely believe that the traditional HBCU as we know it has lived past its expiration date.

GeckoGirl said...

While I don't think the "HBCU system" should be dismantled, I do think that those that don't step up their game so to speak will fall by the wayside as is the case with Morris Brown and others.

I am a Hampton grad and I firmly believe that one of the primary reasons a lot of HBCUs are struggling is a lack of leadership. While I don't always agree with all our (HU's) president's decisions, he is BUSINESS-minded which has kept Hampton in the top 3 HBCUs and allowed us to remain competitive with non-HBCUs. We are a private school (no gov't funding) yet we continue to have the largest endowment of any HBCU as well as add new degrees/programs every year when many other schools are cutting back. Our president has created/supported very strategic alliances that give our students an education and experience that is competitive with, if not better than those at most other HBCUs as well as a number of predominantly white schools. How many undegraduate students can say they launched a satellite for NASA, etc.?

While I definitely mourn the loss of our HBCUs as well as the history behind them, simply being an HBCU isn't good enough anymore. Like stated earlier, black students now have a multitude of options and it is quickly becoming survival of the fittest (among the colleges). Not to mention, the "tradition" of HBCUs is diminishing. Virtually everyone in my parents' generation (among those who attended college) went to an HBCU. Therefore, that tradition was instilled in their children. When you have our generation (as well as those after us) who don't attend HBCUs in large numbers, it is more than likely that our children won't either.

plez... said...


i think we are pretty much on the same page. like you, my oldest brother went to Hampton, it is a fine institution AND one of the best HBCU's this country has to offer. but after the top 5 or 6 HBCU's there is a marked dropoff in quality and effectiveness. i'm sure there is a department here or there that is doing great things, but by and large, like you said: "they need to step up their game."

i differ from you in that a majority of them don't have a game to step up. look at the schools that are local to Hampton: do you agree that Norfolk State would be a stronger university if it were combined with Old Dominion University (ODU)? wouldn't Virginia State be a stronger university if it were combined with Virginia Union and/or the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond?

Hathor said...

My son went to CAU one year. He wanted to go to this school, because of the major. It was one of the cheaper schools in his field. From the moment we set foot on the campus, the incompetence started. From screwing with his dorm room to me being able to pay his bill. He used the computers on Spellman's campus, which he had to leave early. The library's computers were old and slow. The library was shared by all four universities. In his major, the equipment was not industrial. I had mentioned the computers, because I was going to night school at home at a private university and the computers were new thanks to a federal grant. I think that mismanagement is their demise. I also notice that when dealing with the people they were arrogant in their incompetence.

lady lavell said...

I counldn't agree more with the need for HBCU's to make improvements. However, pay attention to what's happening around you before you decide to demolish HBCU's or question their relevancy in this day and age. When President Bush stood up and said Affirmative Action was a quota system, enrollment for minorities in ivy leagues schools dropped significantly. THAT WAS QUALIFIED STUDENTS. Keep in mind Affirmative Action was intended to ensure qualified students get a fair shot, not a hand out. They didn't want u attending school with them back in the day, and they still don't. They are aggressively seeking ways to completely abolish Affirmative Action, and keep you out of their institutions altogether. Then who will you turn to educate you/your future children. I'm a SC STATE grad, and though they have problems, I plan to go back make it better for future generations. Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. HBCU's are still needed.

plez... said...

lady lavell,

i appreciate where you're coming from, but please understand what i am proposing: that HBCU's take corrective action and improve their relevance BEFORE corrective action gets taken against them (i.e. low enrollment, financial ruin, bankruptcy, loss of accreditation, etc.).

there is no question that HBCU's played a GREAT part in the upward mobility of Blacks throughout the 20th century, but i feel that most (save a handful) have lost or are quickly losing relevance in the 21st century.

with the number of choices that are now available to Black students, your parent's or the last generation's HBCU doesn't necessarily come out as the top choice for many college-bound students (my wife didn't even consider CAU, which was where BOTH of her parents attended).

lady lavell said...

I hear what your saying and you are absolutely correct with your assessment. We have to force change. Change is possible, but it takes vision and leadership. We are responsible, as we make up the HBCU's. If we don't do it, nothing will happen.

I am an HBCU grad and I've been a military officer for 13yrs. I work alongside Harvard/Michigan grads and I am as competitive and earn as much money as they do. I only paid $19K for my education compared to their $60-$80K education. We will all retire at 20yrs of service and earn the same money. Makes me wonder who really benefited the most. I'm in less debt and they have nothing over me other than an expensive piece of paper which reads, "HARVARD thanks you for your $80K worth of vanity." (just playing) Also, do you recognize the trend of whites attending HBCU's for this very reason, the education is good and the it's free b/c they are the minority on our campus. How is that they see the value in HBCU's when we are so willing to dismiss it. By the way, I'm a Physical Education major, and have never done anything in the military related to my major. I mention that because not only was should I have been doomed by "poor education", but my major alone should have left me strained & financially challenged. What God has for you, Harvard nor the gates of hell can't take it away.

I mentored a young black female in a local high school, and when I asked her what college she plans on attending she mentioned a few of the ivy league schools. I then asked her what she thought of the local HBCU, and she said their education is not good and gave me a disgusted look. I fear that we are teaching self hate to our next generation. I feel like we "educated folks" are now the instruments of self destruction against the HBCU's. How will these schools get better if we abandon them, not even consider them as an option. So, to get back to your point, now that we recognize a systematic problem, how do we make it better. I think we should take pride in these institutions, and point out the good things they offer our youth. And don't get me wrong, I think it's great that minorities continue to break barriers and succeed in ivy league institutions when most believe we are inferior/incapable. THAT's GREAT. But when you don't even consider an HBCU, it's like saying all the abuse and sacrifice that was made to start these institutions was for Nothing. If we have to march/protest for change at HBCU's, than let's do some house cleaning.

I love Howard/FAMU (to name a few), although I've never attended, because they have raised the bar. They love their school and their grads would not tolerate anything less. Infact, I've met some who would dare you to attempt to marginalize their education. As you have mentioned HBCU's must raise the bar of expectation, but it starts with us making those changes (we have to be there to do that). Great conversation. I look forward to your response.

plez... said...

lady lavell,

i guess it comes down to perception. you mentioned the young lady that you mentor had never even considered an HBCU: you think that it is a form of self-hate, i see that she has a vast number of options available to pursue.

i marvel at the tremendous work and the self-affirming place that HBCU's once held for the Black community. but there was a time when the HBCU was the ONLY option for a Black student. as evidenced by your mentee, the WORLD is her option now... and it's just possible that a HBCU isn't a viable option for what she wants to accomplish.

and that was the premise of my posting the article about Clark Atlanta University. there are options available to Black students whereby they do not have to put up with lack of housing, lack of financial aid, substandard facilities, and majority Black environment. most of these traditionally Black colleges & universities are losing relevance and losing students to larger, better equipped universities!

you write that "change is possible." i counter that argument with, "change is inevitable!" unless BIG CHANGE manifests itself within these HBCU's, more and more will find themselves like Morris Brown (loss of accreditation) or CAU (loss of students and much needed revenue).

Hathor said...

I have been following these comments and one thing come to mind. The United Negro College fund, I don't how much money they raise and how it is dispersed, but the scholarships through them mostly are individually funded. It would seem that fund would help to keep some HBCU's afloat. When my son went to CAU, the number of students and tuition was the same as some small white schools. Actually one would not want the school enrollment to be too big. As a parent I never doubted that my son could get a good education there, but I was disappointed in how they did business. The encounters I have had, gave me the impression that the management did not know how to access resources available and especially technology. I have noticed that black people who are really knowledgeable about technology do not ever seem to be in institutions where black students are. This is in the case of the urban public schools too. I mention technology again, because used right, it can cut so much of the administrative cost.

tusk91 said...

Being in the south, where there are an abundant number of HBCU's the question of them being more expensive is mute unless you are considering a private college. For example living in FL. the cost of attending FAMU is the same as attending FSU or U of F due to them all being state schools. As far as diversity and credibility is concerned, there are a great many HBCU's these days that are forming dual programs with major universities. Programs such as at FAMU, Spelman or Morehouse have dual programs with FSU and Ga. Tech. Some of the smaller HBCU such as say Edward Waters may indeed migrate into being little more than local schools that address a very specific need in our community. But, with some of the other larger HBCU’s, some of there academic programs are very strong and stable. For example if you are talking to a “Black Pharmacist” in FL then you are probably talking to a FAMU Grad. If you are talking to a “Black Veterinarian” anywhere then you are probably talking to a Tuskegee Grad. As far as I know FAMU still has one of the highest job placement rates for Business students in the country and Xavier Univ. still has the among the highest success rate success for pre-med students that go off and successfully graduate from a medical program.

Speaking for myself and my time at Tuskegee University. I loved being able to be surrounded by people who looked like myself but, who came from a variety of places and backgrounds. I was shocked to discover that there is so much diversity even among black people, and for that I think I am stronger. After all I have spent the last almost 20 years surrounded by people who do not look like myself and looking back on those years on campus were very unique and treasured. I think with me it has a lot to do with tradition as well my father is a Hampton Grad. My mother is a FAMU Grad. My brother’s are Tennessee State Univ. Grads. That tradition will continue with my children because my wife and I have a stead fast rule that they “must” attend an HBCU for undergrad at least.

plez... said...


i really appreciate your testimony about your experience and knowledge about HBCU's. i was not aware of the reknown of the tuskegee vet school (i some people who have been through pharmacy school via xavier, though).

i do not dislike HBCU's. i know their historical value to the Black community, but i tend to question a great number of them and their relevancy in today's educational environment. my two oldest brothers are proud graduates of HBCU's (Hampton & Virginia State). my best friend received dual degrees from Morehouse & Georgia Tech.

there are a number of GREAT HBCU's, but there are also a vast number that need great improvements.

bellbear88 said...

HBCU's provide a rich and historical background for young african americans. myself, attending an HBCU am extremely blessed to attend one. Every school has its problems. HBCU or not. it just so happens that HBCU's become more in the limelight than not, and certain HBCU's more than not as well. Students learn a lot, and maybe even more so than they would have attending a majority school. Instead of breaking these schools down, maybe we need to learn how to uplift them, and embrace them. Why should I or anyone else be looked at differntly because of attneding an HBCU? Is it not another school, is it not a place of higher learning? Yes, HBCU's were created so that blacks could attain a higher education when not welcomed in white institutions of higher learning. However, do you think the world has really changed? I think not, no I believe not. Jena 6 in Jena louisianna. we still have nooses being hung. Some places are still segregated, visibly so. Being at a black institution i know that my teachers care about me. I am not just another number, as I would be at a majority school, or lets call it what it really is, a white school. Why should I waste my time in a white school, just getting the remedial, mediocre treatment, when i can go to a place that nourishes me. Yes, I put up with things that maybe i should not necessarily have to put up with, but such is life. And nothing in life comes simple or without a price. I really wish people would take the time out and stop putting down HBCU's because some of the best people came out of HBCU's. And some of the best are yet to come out of HBCU's.

Anonymous said...

I keep reading these comments about all the "choices" available to black students now making HBCU's obsolete. Ans I feel like I'm in the twilight Zone.

I'm quickly appraaching the end of my matriculation at an HBCU myself (Morgan State University). For a vast number, dare I say, the majority of black high school graduates looking to attend college, these "choices" in schools that you speak of are unrealistic and not nearly as simple as you seem to think.

I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong, but only a small amount of us attend HIGH SCHOOLS that are competitive enough to get us into the "better schools" on academic merit alone, not to mention paying for it if we can get in. If you are fortunate enough to go to and graduate from a high school that has prepared you to continue your education, minority scholarships only go so far. I know that at a local university here in Maryland (that isn't an HBCU), less than 40% of their minority students receive enough FREE $ to pay 50% or more of their tuition. We're not all applying to these schools, getting in (on merit, or affirmative action, or whatever) and having funds made available, in huge numbers. Not nearly.

The sad truth is that most of these black kids with "choices" are athletes, or math scholars, or something that is few in number in our community. We can't all go to school on Basketball scholarships.

for me personally, that is where the HBCU's came into play. I knew I could get into other schools, but I was priced out of almost all of them. I come from a family with 7 members (including 3 college aged children at the same time) and only one working parent. Unless I was getting a full ride, I couldn't pay for Loyola or College Park, or Johns Hopkins.

I guess the point I'm really trying to make is that I think you are falling for the idea that bigger progressions have been made for blacks in America than actually have occurred. We are the same 1% of the wealthy in this country as we were in 1850...they just put Oprah, Russell Simmons and Earl Graves in front of us now. And suddenly we think we've made it.

I think HBCU's are VITAL to keeping the numbers of blacks in America that have college educations growing because it allows more of us access to higher education.

I also want to point out that Bachelors Degrees will soon be less valuable as well...i don't plan to attend an HBCU for graduate school, an never did plan to. But I know that I would not be 10 months away from my B.A. if it weren't for the financial accessibility of HBCU's. They are certainly not all private.

Just something to think about.

One last thing I want to add too, I can't really speak for all HBCU's, but I know my soon to be alma mater graduates more black engineers than many of the schools in this country, and more black educators than any school in the State of Maryland, and most of the schools in the country. The lack of black educators in this country (and educators in general i suppose) before the college level, is a vast part of the problem of the LACK of opportunity and "choice" when it comes to college for most black youths.

plez... said...

bellbear & sopranolove,

thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. i love all of the critical feedback that i've received (as comments on here, some e-mail, and even some friends of mine who are proud HBCU graduates have spoken to me about it). this was a tough post to write, even when i think back on it several months removed.

even though i am not a graduate of an HBCU, i have two older brothers who graduated from them, a host of relatives who graduated from them, and some of my best friends & frat brothers attended HBCU's. the LAST think that i'd like to see happen is the wholesale destruction of the HBCU "system", but as i laid out in my post, i see the need for a wholesale revamping of the "HBCU System" to bring it current with the realities of today.

the model, as it exists today, works great for an underserved population that does not have access to a more mainstream education opportunity.

if one's public high school does not adequately prepare its students to matriculate into mainstream universities, then that's a problem with that school district and not an institutional racism issue.

if a student doesn't qualify for adequate financial aid or the parents have not made arrangements to fund higher education, that's a financial issue and not an institutional racism issue.

i cannot speak to, nor can i sympathize with someone who would raise their child in an inferior public school district... and that is something that the "HBCU System" is ill-equipped to manage. the HBCU's can no longer function as glorified high schools as they once were, their graduates will pay the price for receiving a second-rate education at first-rate education prices!

financially, most states have state-run universities where the price for matriculation is the similar to that of a state-run HBCU.

lastly, you touch on the issue of racial progress in the united states. if you don't think that there has been great strides made in reducing racial bias and racism in this country, you haven't been watching the presidential race this year. the racism crutch is just that and Black folk have to face the stark reality that at times we are still going to have to run alittle faster, score alittle higher on our tests, and do alittle better on our jobs to close the gap!

...and segregating our best and brightest students in an HBCU away from those students who our HBCU graduates will eventually have to interact with, work with, network with, hire, be hired by, etc... is not in the best interest of our HBCU students. too much growth and self-awareness is gained during the college years to do them in a relative vacuum.

you cannot doubt that your Morgan State would be a much stronger academic experience if it had the ability to attract a more diverse student body, retain more prestigious professors, and provide a more modern physical plant.

Bdsista said...

Working in one of the top school districts in the country, the issues related to educating children of color have everything to do with institutional racism. There is an entire body of work around equitable teaching practices and issues ranging from white privilege to low expectations of students beginning from kindergarten. There is no such thing as parents of black children having choices about school districts being inferior or otherwise, it has to do with all educational systems and their role in perpetuating the status quo of white supremacy. I graduated from Tuskegee and attended their Veterinary school, which still is the only Black Vet school in the country. I also received a degree from Howard University. I received an education that made my Masters from Univ. of Maryland relative easy and I enjoyed getting my Law degree from University of Maryland. I have done additional graduate work and have never felt that I got less than a stellar education. I have been ignored by professors in white institutions and befriended and mentored by those in HBCUs. I met a brother who graduated from the Veterinary school at Univ of Missouri and when sent out to recruit minorities, told them NOT TO COME because of the horrible racism that existed in those schools. I left Michigan State to go to Tuskegee and NEVER regretted it! Most of my long term friends and professional connections have come from HBCUs. I have graduated white institutions and had white classmates who sat next to me in class, not speak to me on the street or outside a courthouse.
I had classmates at HBCUs who had horrible high school educations who struggled to read their books and spent hours in the library and I watched them graduate and become solid professionals with tears in my eyes. Until you have seen someone who has fought and struggles to get their education. Who has worked one year at a time to pay for school, who has had to go home to help their family harvest crops or work a business on weekends to ultimately be their first to graduate in microbiology, and have institutions that HELP you, not hinder you, then you know not of what you speak. I am 50 years old now and most of my friends are professionals with Post Docs, Board Certified living lives that show the merit of the quality educations HBCUs provide. Look at the statistics of how many Black people graduate with undergrad and higher ed degrees from Black institutions. After the Bakke case the enrollment in University of California's Medical school dropped to ONE black students. I agree that improvements need to be made, but this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Are you in reality a puppet of a white supremacist organization designed to keep Black people in a permanent underclass? White institutions have no historical mission nor commitment to increasing the numbers of Black professionals. HBCU's do, that is why they exist. Take some time and read UP From Slavery. Options are fine, but the vast majority of our students coming from the best of school systems are still affected by the spectre of institutional racism. Read the work of Peggy McIntosh at Wellesley and Tim Wise and James Banks at University of Seattle. There is still a lot of work to be done and our children need as many places as possible to receive an education from teachers who actually CARE about their education. I did, I was blessed to have professors who cared about me on all levels and they set an example for me to carry on their legacy.