By Marybeth Gasman, Ph.D.
I often receive calls from reporters asking me to speak about HBCUs. Reporters like to include “facts” in their news stories and what better place to get them than from a professor/researcher. I enjoy talking to reporters because I think it is important to make sure that research has an impact on practice — getting information out to the general public is a good way to do this. Otherwise, how do we change minds and make progress.
I thought it would be interesting to write about the questions that I am most often asked. And here they are:
Why should Black colleges continue to exist? Why do we need HBCUs in an integrated society or more frequently now, a “post-racial” society? (Note: I don’t believe that we are living in an integrated or post-racial society, yet.)
Why are graduation rates so low at some Black colleges? (Note: Often the “some” is left out of the question and very rarely does anyone make reference to the HBCUs with graduation rates at or above the national average.)
Why is leadership at some HBCUs so heavy handed? (Note: Again, the “some” is often left out of the question and rarely does anyone refer to the heavy handed leadership at some historically White institutions.)
And, in recent times, how is the current economic crisis having an impact on HBCUs? (Note: An excellent question that those in the HBCU community should be coming together to discuss and share strategies for stability.)
I share these questions because I think that everyone associated with HBCUs should be able to answer them if called upon. Although these kinds of questions are not always fair, being able to provide solid, well thought-out answers is essential — especially when these answers are reported across media outlets of various types.
As I answer these questions regularly, I have not answered them here. But, I invite you to take a stab at them, using evidence, of course.
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).