By Dr. Marybeth Gasman
This past week Diverse: Issues in Higher Education ran a story about a 14-year old kid who scored a 30 on the ACT. Despite being courted by Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Polite Stewart Jr., decided to attend a Black college – Southern University at Baton Rouge.
Interestingly, when asked why he chose to attend Southern University, Stewart Jr. alluded to the individual attention that students receive at Black colleges. As the research shows, Black colleges, by and large, provide a nurturing environment in which students feel empowered and are given the tools to boost their self-confidence. Perhaps Black college administrators should place increased emphasis on this one-on-one attention when promoting their institutions. Many students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds are looking for attention, personalized faculty-student relationships, and opportunities to interact with their peers in small-scale settings. These same students, according to research on college student success, excel in this type of environment, performing better in the classroom and increasing their likelihood of attending graduate and professional school.
Most people affiliated with Black colleges, as well as higher education researchers, know of these institutions’ successes in providing an individualized higher education experience. However, what does the general public know? Traditionally, we rank colleges and universities based on the size of their endowment, the credentials of faculty, library holdings, graduation rates, and “reputation.” Perhaps we should also have a ranking that is based on the way that colleges and universities treat their students – one that details the individual attention provided and measures how this attention shapes and motivates students. The National Survey of Student Engagement at Indiana University has been assessing student engagement at colleges and universities for several years, which could lead to new ways to discuss and categorize colleges – thus elevating Black colleges and their accomplishments. However, as long as we rely on U.S. News & World Report to determine which colleges are “best,” Black colleges will need to be more aggressive about singing their own praises if they are to attract the “brightest and best.”
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).