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The Demise Of HCBUs - The Beginning Of The End
4/23/2014 3:50:23 PM

By Barney Blakeney

When it comes to going to schools, I’ve attended my share. I’ve been to so many schools I often get confused trying to figure who I remember from which. I’ve attended two elementary schools, three high schools and three colleges. I’m educationally blessed, I gained something invaluable from which one. All the schools I attended still thrive and continue their missions of teaching students - that is, except the two Historically Black Colleges and universities I attended.

HCBUs are going the way of many Black institutions in the past 40 years or so. Some folks say integration caused the demise of many Black institutions. Black owned businesses may be the most obvious. When Mr. Charlie said Black folks could patronize formerly white only business establishments, we abandoned Black businesses that served our needs when others would not. Black colleges may be the latest victims.

I wanted to go to a major university for journalism after high school graduation. But like too many kids, I didn’t see the connection between good grades in high school and college acceptance. It took me two years and two schools before I finally got it right. But the trip was worth it.

The tiny school I attended my freshman year, Barber Scotia College in North Carolina had about 400 students that year. I’d graduated from a high with an enrollment of about 1,200 students, still I was lost at Scotia.

Immature, irresponsible and undisciplined, I was out of my element, but Scotia nurtured me. I didn’t realize it then, but in spite of myself I had entered an environment that would prepare me to meet the challenges of being a Black man in America. I learned stuff I didn’t realize I was learning.

Being the impetuous know-it-all that I am, I left that incubator and went to Knoxville College in Tennessee - one of the best moves I’ve ever made! KC continued the refinement that was to be my education. And as at Scotia, that HCBU nurtured me, pushed me to new horizons and gave me tools I still use today.

Two years after high school graduation, I finally was accepted at the University of South Carolina. I continued to learn, but there was no nurturing. There were resources, the kind that never were available at the two HCBUs I’d attended. We had science labs open to students who could use them at their own discretion and student athletic facilities that rivaled anything I’d seen at either Scotia or KC.

But you know what? I don’t feel like I learned a whole lot at USC. I had one Religion professor whose name I can’t remember who impressed me. I wish I’d spent more time in his class.

I continued to grow while at USC and I use the tools I gained there today as well. But the one thing I’d tell kids coming behind me about making choices about college was to seriously look at predominantly white colleges and universities because they had better physical resources.

Like Black folks who abandoned Black institutions when integration made it okay for us to engage formerly white only institutions, my focus was on the material/physical resources. And I figured a degree from the big time white university opens doors.

I don’t regret the decisions I made. I guess you could say I was pragmatic and got the best of both educational worlds - Black college nurturing and instruction and white college credibility.

Fast forward 30 years and today w I see where so many Black colleges are being forced to close. According to one source, Scotia’s down to 26 students. KC also is struggling to survive.

We may think the white man’s educational ice, like his businesses is colder, but the fact remains that though HCBUs make up only three percent of the nation’s colleges and universities, they produce 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black public school teachers, and 40 percent of baccalaureate degreed Black students in STEM fields.

HCBUs are struggling to survive for a number of reasons. Times are tough and there ain’t a lot of money out there. In recent years there’s been a lot of shiesty business going on at HCBUs which cipher off the little bit of money that is available to them. Leadership also is a challenge. The average tenure for HCBU presidents is about three years.

Still, I’m reminded that those schools existed for over 100 years through some of the most difficult times for Black folks in American history because Black people realized the need and their value. Those of us who gained from HCBUs - and that’s all of us - owe a lot to Black colleges and universities. Watching their demise is not only painful, its witnessing the beginning of the end for our culture.

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