Closing Plenary (left to right): David Wilson; Michael Lomax; Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.; Lezli Baskerville; and moderator Michel Martin, Host, "Tell Me More" National Public Radio

The 2010 National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week Conference
Washington, DC, September 12-14, 2010

On September 10, 2010, President Barack Obama proclaimed September 12-18, 2010, as National Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Week. During the week the White House Initiative on HBCUs along with the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs hosted the 2010 National HBCU Week Conference. President Jimmy Carter established the White House Initiative on HBCUs in 1980. Currently Morehouse Man Dr. John Wilson serves as its Executive Director, and Hampton University President Dr. William Harvey chairs the President’s Board of Advisors. Several hundred government and elected officials; corporate and nonprofit executives; HBCU presidents, board members,  administrators, and staff; and I participated in the conference. With the mission of identifying, discussing and addressing how to enhance the capacity of HBCUs, attendees explored a variety of issues throughout the meeting. The purpose of the conference was twofold: to fulfill Presidential Executive Order 13532 and advance the goal in higher education set by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to move the US from number twelve to number one in the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Ultimately, the Obama Administration seeks to have the besteducated and most competitive and diverse workforce in the world, and HBCUs are critical in helping our nation accomplish this goal.

As an alumna of an HBCU (Clark Atlanta University), a product of several HBCUs (Spelman College, Morehouse College, Morris Brown College, Interdenominational Theological Center, and Texas Southern University–I took classes on all of these campuses), as a two-time HBCU Board of Trustees member (CAU), former HBCU faculty member (Morehouse College), former national president of an HBCU alumni association (CAU), and an associate member of my sister’s HBCU alumni association (Tuskegee University Veterinary Medical Alumni Association), I have a personal and vested interest in the success of HBCUs. The conference provided a wealth of information about the importance of HBCUs as well as the multiple challenges that face them. One of the aspects that I found most intriguing was learning about the accomplishments of the Obama Administration in regards to education, and more specifically, higher education and HBCUs.

In less than two years, the Obama Administration has increased the resources and promoted innovation in all levels of our nation’s educational system. In addition to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act providing nearly $100 billion for K-12 education, the Administration also instituted four significant achievements in higher education:

  1. Increased funding for Pell Grants,
  2. Increased funding for student loans,
  3. Simplified the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA form), and
  4. Developed income-based repayment for student loan debt, including the opportunity for student loans to be forgiven for ten years of work in public service.

Through the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, the Administration also invested $850 million in HBCUs over next ten years. These herculean accomplishments will make a tremendous impact on our country, especially in the African American and Latino communities, where access to quality education is a major issue and concern. More specifically, these educational reforms will positively impact HBCUs.

In addition to exploring the external developments affecting HBCUs, the conference sessions also addressed the internal issues facing HBCUs. Although there were many that were discussed, I want to focus on three major challenges. First, HBCUs have low graduation rates. According to statistics presented at the conference, HBCUs have a 37% graduation rate, with an alarming 40% of students dropping out their freshman year. As products of low-performing urban public schools and moderate to low-income families, many students who attend HBCUs lack the academic preparation and/or financial resources to complete their education. Secondly, HBCUs lack male students. African American men are not attending college at the same rate as African American women. The disproportionate number of women over men attending college creates sociological challenges in the African American community. Finally, HBCUs lag in the percentage and amount of alumni giving. Only a small percentage of HBCU alumni contribute to our institutions, which ultimately affects our capacity to serve.

The conference had several highlights. On the first day President Obama held a private reception with the HBCU presidents at the White House, Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony Wilder Miller served as the guest speaker for one of the conference luncheons, and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) addressed the body during the closing banquet. The most interesting conference session to me was the final plenary “Harnessing the Power of Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” featuring the leadership of the three major umbrella organizations of HBCUs: Lezli Baskerville, President and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), Michael Lomax, President and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. I especially enjoyed this session because it proposed a variety of solutions for the difficulties facing HBCUs. (See below.) HBCUs must continue to improve, if we are to rise to President Obama’s challenge of restoring our nation as the world leader in higher education. HBCUs must increase the quality as well as the quantity of our graduates.

To all of my extended HBCU family members–trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, advocates and supporters of HBCUs, we each have a role to play in enhancing and advancing the capacity of HBCUs. Furthermore, any and all of us can play a role in supporting the Obama Administration and its goals in the area of education. As we all know, education is a prerequisite for prosperity. Education increases the financial security of the individual and a well-educated workforce ensures the economic growth and competitiveness of our nation. All students deserve a world-class education. As one person at the conference stated, “The world belongs to those that educate their populations.” Each of us can contribute. Below is a list of solutions for HBCUs proposed at the conference. What role will you play?

Suggested areas of focus for improvement of HBCUs:

  • Increase graduation rates – 3 ways:
  1. Develop/improve programs that prepare students for college;
  2. Help students make the transition to college through Student Support Services that are holistic in nature–academic, social and financial. Must emphasize and put a lazier focus on assistance during the first year of college; and
  3. Develop strategies to lure drop out students back to college.
  • Strengthen teacher preparation programs to increase the number of African American educators, especially men.
  • Strengthen STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
  • Develop independent funding streams. Examples: agriculture–commodify goods and services, Homeland Security–train community law enforcement, online services, etc.
  • Increase collaborative efforts.
  • Focus on workforce development – produce great products for employers.
  • Invest in innovation in higher education.
  • Develop/improve Student Support Services – ex: mentorship programs, complementary academic support, in-service opportunities, employment opportunities, internships, etc.
  • Appoint the best and brightest people to solve internal challenges. Use the corporate model–if there is a problem, find an expert to fix it and fix it quick!
  • Strengthen and engage HBCU community colleges, who can assist with college preparedness.
  • Invest more funding into HBCUs that are disproportionately educating more low-income and first-generation students.
  • Recruit more black men to college.
  • Encourage/facilitate the development of healthy relationships between African American men and women.
  • Support diverse types of relationships on campus.
  • Identify ways to increase financial support for students. Most drop out of college because of the lack of financial resources.
  • Identify and develop relationships with community colleges. Community colleges are a great pipeline for HBCUs to recruit students. Many African American and Latino students begin their education at community colleges.
  • Create dual enrollment program between HBCUs and community colleges from the student’s point of entry at the community college. This will improve retention data at HBCUs.
  • Increase the quality and quantity of graduates produced.
  • Develop collaborative efforts among UNCF, NAFEO and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
  • Increase the number of graduates from graduate and professional schools.
  • Encourage students to be politically and civically engaged.
  • Invest in institutions that demonstrate success in moving the numbers and statistics in a positive direction.
  • Identify and support effective leadership. Leadership matters!
Categories: Opinion pieces


  1. Comment by Dr. Fantara Houston

    Dr. Fantara Houston Reply September 30, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    The key to stopping the downward spiral of HBCUs is to partner with public schools. The state of the HBCU will only improve if we go into schools and help students prepare for college. Students are the lacking motivation to learn and dropping out before they even realize their potential. I see this getting worst every year. If we do not start this initiaive now, not only will HBCUs be in dire need of African American students, all universities and colleges will see an abysmal drop in enrollment.

    • Comment by Ramona Houston

      Ramona Houston Reply October 1, 2010 at 11:24 am

      Great comment, Dr. Houston. Attendees at the conference also addressed the issue of the high drop out rate among African American students, particularly males. That is why two of the solutions presented at the conference emphasize developing programs to prepare students for college and increasing the number of African American educators. Partnerships with public schools is vital to increasing the number of students attending HBCUs. The first step to college completion is the completion of high school.

    • Comment by Jennifer R. Shorter

      Jennifer R. Shorter Reply December 23, 2010 at 10:55 am

      I agree whole-heartedly that HBCUs need to develop stronger relationships with public schools. I think dual enrollment is a fantastic opportunity to could propel growth, retention, and graduation rates for HBCUs and students. My dissertation chair and I are writing an article and my dissertation topic is about dual enrollment and HBCUs.

      • Comment by Ramona Houston

        Ramona Houston Reply December 30, 2010 at 1:59 am

        Ms. Shorter,

        It is good to know that you are interested in advancing the idea of HBCUs developing stronger relationships with public schools. It is a great topic to explore for your dissertation. The HBCU family needs to know and understand the importance of and how to develop this relationship. Your research will make this possible.

  2. Comment by Joan E. Gosier

    Joan E. Gosier Reply February 23, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I think the list of options should also include building up a strong pipeline of FUTURE DREAMERS, LEADERS and ACHIEVERS before the hit the middle school population. Encouraging and supporting preschool through elementary school partnerships for early exposure and talent identification. Most endowments take about 10-15 years to ripen. Imagine the investment pay off if the parents “most likely” to be preparing their “brilliant start” to attend college, would be vested in our 105 HBCUs, how it is a win-win all around. Too often, the HBCUs are scraping up the students that are left behind and unprepared, which in many cases IS the mission/purpose of the institution. To balance the risk/reward portfolio, MORE emphasis should be placed on EARLY RECRUITMENT and BRAND RECOGNITION. Some parents feel their offspring is “too good” for today’s HBCU.

    Few seem think or consider a POSITIVE VISION of tomorrow’s HBCU.

    • Comment by RH

      RH Reply April 5, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      Ms. Gosier, thank you for your interest and work centered around HBCUs. Your idea of identifying and nurturing talent early, specifically preschool through elementary, could have a big impact on the student and the HBCUs involved. I also agree that it is important to create a pipeline for higher education as early as possible among our youth. It is unfortunate, however, that some parents do not understand the value of HBCUs, but is is up to us, who are products of the institutions, to promote their value. Thank your thoughtful ideas and work.

  3. Comment by Joan E. Gosier

    Joan E. Gosier Reply February 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm


    QUOTE:”…I mentioned in a recent post that students who choose to attend a historically black college instead of a more selective college may be hurting their future earnings prospects….”

    With negative media like above example, It will become increasingly challenging to convice students that it makes sense to plan in advance to take a pay cut (in a recession sensitive economy) as the price of attending a HBCU.

    • Comment by RH

      RH Reply April 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      Ms. Gosier, that is why it is so important for people who know the truth to challenge these types beliefs and comments through our speaking, writing, and work. We need strong voices and strong advocates for HBCUs.

  4. Comment by Dr. Calvin Fogle

    Dr. Calvin Fogle Reply April 5, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    Good Article,
    I recently finished my Doctoral degree from Walden University where I completed a dissertation entitled “Employers’ Perceptions of Business Graduates From Historically Black Colleges and Universities”. This study was aimed at gaining a clearer understanding of employers’ perceptions relative to HBCUs, and to use the knowledge gained to inform recruitment policies and hiring practices. The results indicated that employers perceive HBCU business graduates to (a) be competent in the business skills brought to the job but need mentors to succeed in the business community; (b) be more driven to achieve, thinking that they have a disadvantage to graduates of non-HBCUs; and (c) perceive HBCUs as producing equivalent talent as non-HBCUs for all types of organizations. However, because of a perceived HBCU stigmatization, inappropriate perceptions and bias regarding HBCUs exist among employers. I hope the results of the study could inform leaders in HBCUs and employers how to develop a dialogue to recognize any negative perceptions and to make the appropriate adjustments in HBCUs and organizations.

    The intent has to be to raise awareness of HBCU’s and challenge employers to pursue more inclusive strategies through policy implementation. Such changes would have a positive effect on recruitment policies and hiring practices. The results of this study could provide the opportunity to improve employment opportunities in the workforce for business graduates of HBCUs and help reduce inappropriate perceptions and biases held regarding HBCUs.

    • Comment by RH

      RH Reply April 5, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Dr. Fogle, your research on employers and their perceptions of HBCU business graduates is of great value. Once we understand the challenges that HBCU graduates face in the business world, we will be better able to address some of these concerns. Mentorship is so important, particularly in the world of business, that HBCUs also need to consider creating advanced mentorship programs within our business schools. Additionally, developing a dialogue among the leaders and educators at HBCUs along with employers could serve both entities greatly. Thank you for your research and interest in the advancement of HBCUs and their graduates. Your efforts are greatly needed and have the ability to make a big impact.

    • Comment by Lorraine Anderson

      Lorraine Anderson Reply May 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

      Hello Dr. Fogle,

      Congratulations on being the first student to graduate from Walden’s DBA program. Currently, I am a doctoral candidate at Walden and has reached to milestone of writing the proposal for my study of the Economic Disparities of veteran. I will be using your doc study as a model. You have done an excellent job in your study. I am reading it page by page.

      I am looking for suggestions on how I can improve my topic.

      Lorraine Anderson

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