By Dalia Singleton Gary, Ed.M., staff editor Recently, Ralph Jones, Jr. a 16 year old black prodigy from Georgia, chose to enroll at Florida A&M University, a historically black university (HBCU). Among his other choices were Harvard, Yale, and 45 other selective and prestigious universities.
His choice has been highly controversial. Some believe America has outgrown its need for HBCUs. Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article criticizing Obama’s pledge to invest $850 million to support HBCUs over the next decade. He argues that since black students now have the opportunity to attend any college, they would be better off attending a more “respectable institution.”
“Respectable institution”? While I am aware that the achievement gap between predominantly black and predominantly white schools found in K-12 education generally persists at the college level, there is a wide range of quality at HBCUs. The academic rigor and prestige at HBCUs like Howard, Spelman and Morehouse are far superior to that of many traditionally white institutions.
I would also argue that the low quality found at some HBCUs is largely a result of inequities in funding. The first HBCUs started in the 1800’s when it was illegal for slaves to go to school. This gave the “Ivy’s” and most other prestigious institutions a head start in establishing resources and legacies. Many now have endowments in the billions while HBCUs are struggling to keep the lights on.
From the perspective of a pre-college advisor and a black student pursuing higher education, I wish for the continued success (and existence) of America’s HBCUs. Students choose to attend colleges based on academic and social fit. Unfortunately, many black students have to choose between getting a degree from an institution that mainstream society values or being in a social environment that builds confidence and esteem in their identity. I would argue that one is not necessarily more important than the other in determining the likelihood of post-graduation success.
Ralph chose Florida A&M for their strong engineering program, full scholarship, family feel, and close proximity to his home. Does Ralph’s logic differ from many promising white students who choose historically white institutions for similar reasons? I don’t see anyone objecting to students choosing to attend Ohio University with its 88% white student body. Aren’t those students being disadvantaged by not being exposed to the “real world” where growing populations of people of color are quickly making the term “minority” a misnomer?