A Multidimensional Challenge for Black Colleges




A recent article written by John S. Wilson Jr., challenges HBCUs to assess the current educational climate and to be proactive about instituting progressive reform.  He speaks of young donors being more inclined to giving towards “creating tomorrow” investments rather than “save the day” charitable gifts.  This profound statement really woke me up.  We can not continue to have a save the day mentality, by thinking retroactively in a sense we are fighting a losing battle.  Only when we transform advocacy into a innovative and forward thinking model will we begin to get the change we want and need.

Although Wilson strongly asserts that HBCUs transform their thinking, he also recognizes the ambition set forth by early educational leaders like Mary McCleod Bethune, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.  All who believed in the mission of HBCUs, all offered a different means on how to attain that perfect vision, but maintained autonomous goals.

Wilson also challenged HBCUs to step up and take responsibility, calling upon Du Bois’ words, “Unless we conquer our present vices, they will conquer us.” I have posted some of the article below.  However, you can read the amazing article in its entirety here.

Note the only comment on the article reads, “Here is the challenge:  How do we get rid of these things?   They are racist, and have no good purpose to exist.   They tend to be poor academically and most are primarily diploma mills.   The last I checked in my state, all the state universities, and all the private ones too, were wide open to blacks and any other minorities, and in fact were giving them an advantage in admissions.  So why in H-E-double-hockey-sticks are we wasting money on HBCU’s?  Close ’em down.”  And three people liked this comment, smh.. WE HAVE TO BE BETTER, AND DO BETTER!

Historically black colleges and other institutions can look down and see substantial cracks in the ice under American higher education. Many of the cracks stem from atmospheric pressure. In Washington, budgets have rarely been tighter and politics has rarely been coarser. In higher education, the competition is stiffer, inequality widens, and it has become much more difficult for institutions with fewer resources to graduate students who are effectively prepared to enter and thrive in a technologically advanced, information-based, and increasingly competitive workplace. In private philanthropy, many donors are younger and more inclined toward “create tomorrow” investments, rather than “save the day” gifts.

These challenges seem even more daunting in the context of President Obama’s national goal to have the best-educated, most-competitive work force in the world by 2020. To do their part, HBCU’s will need to produce thousands more graduates than they do today.

How can they effectively position themselves to meet this critical challenge and thrive in the 21st century? Besides looking down, they can use at least four other angles to view and improve their collective fate. With renewal and excellence in mind, these diverse institutions should also look back, around, within, and ahead to gain compelling perspectives for reshaping the future.

First, they can lift and sharpen the trajectory of their strategic vision by looking to the past. Some of the greatest dreamers in American history—people like Mary McCleod Bethune, Fannie Jackson Coppin, W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washington, and Benjamin Elijah Mays—imagined that black colleges and universities would one day rise to rank among the best in the world. Their bold convictions and aspirations energized their profound resolve to use education to change the course of human history. And they had very high expectations for where historically black institutions could and should be by now. In so many ways, those leaders continue to serve as ideological beacons whose ideas and ambitions can still illuminate the path ahead.

Second, HBCU’s can gain new perspectives by surveying their environment to assess how others are navigating the competitive landscape. This age of uncertainty is not a time to be insular, protective, and self-absorbed. Many leaders in higher education are aggressively attempting to create and expand synergistic partnerships with other universities, federal agencies, new and emerging growth industries, and businesses worldwide as integral parts of their strategic advancement. Those partnerships are opening new student markets through online instruction and distance learning, and consequently creating new revenue streams.

Third, if HBCU’s look within themselves with greater humility and candor, some may realize how their own administrative culture can limit their possibilities and thwart institutional renewal. Referring as much to institutions as to individuals, W.E.B. DuBois once wrote, “Unless we conquer our present vices, they will conquer us.” While the strength and promise of many historically black colleges can hardly be disputed, some of them have internal “vices” that must be courageously examined and forthrightly conquered. Honest and fair criticisms from various HBCU supporters and observers are mounting, even among alumni.

There is detectable disenchantment with some organizational deficiencies, ranging from inefficient business practices to a failure to maintain quality control and high standards of customer service (particularly in such frontline offices as admissions, financial aid, and public relations). Most important, declining retention and graduation rates at some colleges undermine all the colleges’ contributions to the 2020 goal. These trends point to a need for a new emphasis on operational excellence at many historically black colleges, including adoption of proven practices that enhance administrative efficiency and student success.


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