Historically black colleges face uncertain future

Associated Press

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For generations, historically black colleges and universities have played a key role in educating young African-Americans.

But facing often steep declines in enrollment, these schools are struggling to survive. In the last 20 years, five historically black colleges and universities — or HBCUs — have shut down and about a dozen have dealt with accreditation issues.

South Carolina State University, that state’s only public historically black higher education institution, had its accreditation placed on probation last month after the school was cited for financial problems.

Morris Brown College, a 133-year-old private institution in Atlanta, filed for bankruptcy in August 2012 and has received court approval to sell some of its property.

Earlier this year, North Carolina elected officials flirted with the idea of studying the closing of Elizabeth City State University, a public historically black college, after its enrollment had dropped by 900 students in three years.

An outcry from supporters saved the school and stirred up support from the state’s Legislative Black Caucus last month.

Historically black colleges once were the only option for most black students, who made up almost 100 percent of their enrollment in 1950. That began to change in the 1960s, as many doors that once were shut to blacks were opened.

Now that black students have a much wider choice of schools, only 11 percent of African-American college students choose a historically black college or university.

Abdul S. Rasheed, a member of ECSU’s board of trustees, said that in order for historically black schools to survive, their graduates and supporters must take control of their own future.

While financial contributions to U.S. colleges rose slightly in 2013, on average at historically black colleges, only 10 percent of alumni give back.

“If nothing changes, they will eliminate them,” says Rasheed. “That will be the biggest mistake this country has ever made.”

Marybeth Gasman, an expert on historically black colleges and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said states should support black colleges because they are doing the “lion’s share” of the work for first generation-students.

“Historically black colleges serve low-income students, first-generation students, students of color, adult learners, part-time students, students who might be what I call ‘swirlers’ who swirl in and swirl out of academe,” says Gasman.

Eighty-four percent of students at historically black schools receive Pell Grants, which are federal, need-based funds awarded to low-income students.

As society changes, many historically black colleges and universities are not all black anymore. One of every four students at a historically black institution is Hispanic, Asian-American, white or of another ethnicity.

Zane Lewis, a white freshman from Sanford, North Carolina, plans to major in business or marketing at North Carolina Central University, a historically black school in Durham.

“I thought I wasn’t really going to fit in but, I mean, everyone has been really friendly so far,” says Lewis. “I just want to walk away saying that they didn’t treat me different.”

Gasman says states are reluctant to support historically black colleges because they consider them segregated — although largely white universities can be less integrated than the historically black schools.

“We are no more separate than Chapel Hill is,” says Rasheed, referring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the student body was 66 percent white last fall, according to data from the college portrait of undergraduate education website.

“If they close down Elizabeth City State, are they going to allow 2,000 more African-Americans and others to be admitted at other campuses?” he asked.



First of all, this is in no way to point fingers at any one entity or "stakeholder" involved in the education of all young students period, let alone African-American students, from Northeastern North Carolina, the poorest region, an underserved region, an underfunded region, and yes, an ill-forgotten region among many from Central North Carolina, if you know what I mean. Whether you want to believe it or not, understand it or not, accept it or not, WE are all in this together. And until the entire 21-County Region surrounding ECSU such as local and state Legislatures, Community Leaders, School Administrators, Principals, Teachers, Parents, and Students open the dialogue and begin a protracted effort to address not only the internal issues at the University but also the Systemic (external) issues, locally and nationally involving, CUTS to access (low scores, low income), CUTS to Pell Grants (85% of enrollments require it), and CUTS in the name of diversity (not sure what that is all about, then again), we will continue to be the ill-fated region of the state as described earlier in my comments. Second, it doesn't take a "Rocket-Scientist" to figure out the way we fund HBCUs is NOT working. It's been going on now for a Century and a half and that's how long these "systemic" mandates, policies, and CUTS have adversely affected the growth of HBCU's. Now, you ask us to "think outside the box". Well, I beg to differ because each and every time the economy has "tanked" during the last century and a half, we have always had to "think outside the box" and become more and more innovative just to barely keep our enrollments up and consequently keep our doors open. You know and have heard the old adage; "when White America catches a cold, Black America catches the flu". To make things worst, today, now that money is driving everything, even votes, where we (African-Americans) will always and forever be in the minority or behind, there are those who think that closing HBCUs will solve everything. Finally, all HOPE is NOT lost. We are a resilient people and have found innovative ways to survive. We will be celebrating 125 years of Education beginning the Fall Semester 2015 mving inot our Founder's Day Celebration march 3, 2016. I pray that all stakeholders interested in the education of all of our youth from Northeastern North Carolina will come together and work through the issues tht has plagued this university over the century and a quarter that it has existed. Thanks.

timrod757, please tell me more

Were you born in Africa and now a US citizen? If so, you can rightfully call yourself African-American. If not, you are a Black American. You cannot claim to be African-American any more than I can claim to be European-American. What's with the African-American label anyway? I fail to see any purpose of it. Is it an ego thing? Is the hyphen magic? Does claiming so make one any blacker? Any smarter? Any more entitled? Is it a social status amongst the culture? Does it command more respect? Does it open doors? Does it make more money available? Please, inquiring minds NEED to know the positives, because IF it will create more opportunities for ME, then I'll begin labeling myself as a European-American and get a piece of the action! Right now, I'm just a dedicated, loyal, patriotic, USA loving, red blooded American (please note that no hyphens were used)looking for an opportunity to live the American dream to the fullest. Please, please, tell me more!

"Freespeaker", Tell you more, be HAPPY to...

I'm not sure from which context you are speaking so I will attempt to keep my comments positive. First, to answer your question; NO, I was not born in Africa. I am documented as a US Citizen by the ratification of the 14th Amendment to our US Constitution on July 9, 1868. Since that time, WE (NEGROES, COLORED, BLACKS, AFRICAN-AMERICANS, and other names I don't care to even mention) have been and will always be a resilient people when faced with the challenges of educating our youth due to lack of access, lack of funding, and lack of support in general. If your "beef", as it seems, is with my use of the word "African-American", then please don't take it personal. As I recollect, back in the day, calling someone "Black" was the same as asking for a royal "Beatdown". So, with that said; I don't claim to know all of the history behind why references to us as a group of people have changed over the many, many, many years, but if you have applied for a job or filled out a survey lately; there is a list that ask for a check if you are: "Black, Not Hispanic", and then further down, it ask: "African-American". I mean, what is that all about? But once again, I'm sure it goes back to the fact that I mentioned in my previous post that our problems are "systemic" and no internal issues at ECSU has singularly caused the challenges we are facing with decline in enrollments, funding, and the indangerment of overall access to education in Northeastern North Carolina.

Now, "Freespeaker", whenever someone responds to commentary with question, after question, after question, normally, generally, usually they are attempting to DEFLECT the discussion/problem. Is this what you are attempting to do? Because, if so, you sir/mam are part of the "systemic" problem that my commentary intitally speaks upon. You have added no substance to the conversation whatsoever. If you are not going to speak/write/look as part of the solution then I highly suggest, you keep your freespeaking to yourself. Nobody has time for that.

Not surprising

All of my questions were direct. As usual, and not surprising when "people of color" are asked direct questions, you chose not to answer any of them. Why? I suggest that there are no rehearsed replies, mindless chants or banters that addresses questions such as these. Perhaps the useless rhetoric that has been used for the past 60 years should be updated with some intelligent verbiage that reveals logic and truth instead of the time worn innuendos and hollow threats everyone is so tired of hearing. I do not believe the resiliency you speak of is exclusive to your race, but rather is shown in every race, culture, people to varying degrees. But then again, resiliency is no substitute for intelligence, wisdom, and morals. These qualities are severely lacking in many cultures and races today. You seem offended at the many questions fielded and I take it as you having no believable answer to any of them as the reason for your being offended. I just have to conclude that the real reason is that "people of color" are suffering from a seemingly perpetual identity crisis to which none can unanimously agree upon or be satisfied with. As for the ECSU problem, 125 years of self inflicted isolation and backward thinking is finally bringing it to it's knees. Hopefully, those despised white folk can intervene and save or salvage what remains.

Interesting... Finally some friendly discourse

Thank you for your response. I was beginning to think that no one was interested in addressing the "real issues". You have made some very VALID points, but unfortunately they are ALL stereotypical and misconceived at best. Come back when you STOP watching "FOX" news to form your very own opinions and not the opinions of your oppressors.

Now let's see;

First-I'm somehow too "dumb" to answer questions that have no relevancy to the issues. I did in fact answer each of your questions with a general response and even gave you a few examples but your "blinders" are such that you refuse to understand/accept the information that has been provided. So, do sir/mam, what you should have done in the first place-"goggle it." STEREOTYPE/MISCONCEPTION

Second-I'm somehow threatening you. This, I find extremely interesting to say the least. This is usually the road that "a lot of whites" take when someone speaks to them intellectually, confidently, assuredly, and faithfully. Suddenly, we become a threat. ANOTHER STEREOTYPE/MISCONCEPTION

Third-You "HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD" in your reference to "people of color' suffering from perpetual identity crisis. I emphatically CONCUR on so many levels. But sir/mam, why do you think that's so? Please elaborate more because I would like to gain some deeper insight from your perspective.

Finally, I would agree to any of "those despised white folk" as you have mentioned, intervening and "saving or salvaging" ECSU. If it had not been for the ROSENWALD'S, CARNEIGIE'S, AND ROCKEFELLER'S assisting in the funding of our schools during the "Reconstruction Period", they would never exist today for "ALL CHILDREN WHO CHOOSE TO ATTEND THEM TO GET AN ADVANCED EDUCATION".

Point proven

First of all, you are reading into my comments something that is not there (putting words in my mouth). Nothing was ever said to the effect that you, or anyone else for that matter, was dumb. Secondly, how does one "goggle it"??? I suppose you meant "Google", as so much of your comments have misspellings and improper sentence structure. Third, What you call stereotype is really cultural characteristics. These are so numerous that space does not permit a listing of them. Assuredly, you are incapable of making me feel threatened or offended. I have no identity crisis, work for what I have, am not entitled, and no one "owes" me anything. As a side note, I find your comments, at a minimum, humorous and entertaining. Peace be with you.

First, our area needs ECSU...

but we need a university that attracts talent, of any race. Recently there was a editorial in the DA that indicated that ECSU is paying for the retesting of students who could not make the academic standards cut. Students PREPARED for college have choices. Good students and good teachers expect their school to have standards. I was speaking with a local ECSU student this week about their college career at ECSU. First, some professors take roll at the end of the session, giving students time to stroll in late and be accounted for. Second, is there a issue with student failure rates at ECSU and are professors asked to correct it? None of the above is new, but isn't it time to address it? Betsy Meads

They wanted equality

Now they have it. The playing field is level now and HBCU's are being held to the same standards as all colleges. Isn't equality great?!!!

Why did former Chancellor Mickey Burnim

leave ECSU? I think it was because of a philosophy difference between him and a few hard core members of his Board of Trustees concerning the direction of ECSU's future. At the center of that difference was would ECSU continue as a HBCU or adapt to a changing market environment? The future of ECSU lies with the current Board of Trustees and their vision for ECSU's future. Their selection of a new Chancellor is obviously key to ECSU's future. I pray it will be someone of unwavering integrity.


Didn't the UNC general administration see this coming several years ago, with their proposal to re-name ECSU away from its HBCU-rooted name to the more-inclusive UNC at Elizabeth City moniker? Oh that's right - ECSU's board of trustees promptly rejected the idea since it would dilute the school's heritage. Well, news flash - times change and any institution must be prepared to evolve with them, even if not for its very survival. The UNC board of governors saw the problem of declining HBCUs well ahead of the trend and offered a lifeline. Unfortunately, that assistance was politely declined - oh well, you've already dug your own hole. Either be prepared for the inevitable decline of the school beyond what has already occurred, or radically innovate in order to save it. Your choice.

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