Tag Archives: higher education

It’s HBCU Week in Washington DC: Let’s See What the Future Holds

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009Every year, I attend the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Conference, which is held in Washington D.C. in September.  It’s a unique event in that it brings together the leaders of both public and private HBCUs with members of the federal government, funders, and those representing the private and nonprofit sector.

This morning I had the privilege of listening to the new Executive Director of the White House Initiative John S. Wilson talk about his goals for HBCUs.  Wilson a dynamic and entertaining speaker who has a wonderful ability to appropriately incorporate history into his vision for the future of HBCUs.  Wilson is also a straight talker who realizes HBCU success and the success of their graduates is tied to improved graduation rates and increased outcomes across the board, including stronger endowments, higher alumni giving, lower attrition rates, lower deferred maintenance, higher faculty salaries, lower faculty teaching loads, and higher enrollments.  Of course, the only way to increase outcomes at HBCUs in the way that Wilson describes is to provide these institutions with the necessary support and the appropriate tools for success.  Wilson understands that increased support for infrastructure and tools for capacity building are essential.

Wilson’s agenda for HBCUs is results-oriented.  He mentioned strategies such as “collecting data to make the case for HBCUs.”  He specifically told the large audience of HBCU supporters that we all need to  Recover, Uncover, and Discover HBCUs.  First, he encouraged HBCUs leaders to recover the history of HBCUs and to share that history of success with others, noting “you can have a great history without a great heritage.”  From this historian’s point of view, it was  refreshing to hear an HBCU leader point to new examples of the contributions of HBCUs — their role in increasing literacy rates in the United States, for instance — rather than the same examples that are pointed to over and over.

Second, Wilson asked the audience to “uncover” the problems and challenges that HBCUs face, saying “we cannot fix what we do not examine.”  Although there are risks in pointing to the problems that HBCUs confront, it is absolutely essential to their future that we identify these problems, interogate the reasons for their existence, and work diligently to tackle them in an effort to make HBCUs stronger.  Wilson urged HBCU insiders to shine a light on their challenges; this is imperative because if HBCU supporters don’t shine this light, others will.  Wilson also wants us to hold HBCUs responsible for the education of their students, but he also wants to hold the Federal government responsible, admitting that in the past there has been “bias and bureacracy in federal funding to HBCUs.”

Third, Wilson asked the group of HBCU leaders to “discover” HBCUs all over again, emphasizing that HBCUs are often well-kept secrets.  These institutions boast some of the best programs and resources for educating African-Americans and other students.  There is much to be learned from their strategies for success, but all too often HBCUs fail to highlight success and to share their legacies with those outside the HBCU community.

In closing, Wilson said one of the most important things I have heard in years pertaining to HBCUs.  Based on his own personal experience at Morehouse College, he talked about the student who loves his HBCU, but doesn’t always like it.   He noted that the way that HBCU leaders handle this student is absolutely key to the future success of HBCUs.  If you engage the student in making changes that strengthen the institution — if you listen to him or her — more than likely, you end up with a lifelong supporter of your institution and a donor.  But, if you ignore the student and dismiss his or her perspective, the result is an alumnus who never looks back with fond memories and never gives back.

In my opinion, Wilson exemplifies President Barack Obama’s stance on HBCUs and  articulates the Obama vision for these institutions as well as higher education overall.

Get and Give All You Can: Advice for New Graduate Students

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

gasman2009It’s that time of year — new graduate students are setting foot on campuses across the nation hoping to gain knowledge and have new experiences that will help them progress in their careers.  As a professor and adviser, I get really excited about new graduate students.  They are usually wide-eyed, excited, and eager to get started.  However, after a semester, I often sense their frustration with the academy.  So, I thought I’d offer a bit of advice for getting (and giving) the most out of your graduate experience.

1.   Keep an open mind.  Don’t let the students who have been around for a few years color your experience.  Make your experience your own experience and enjoy it.  This is one of the most wonderful times in your life — oh to be able to just think!

2.  Get to know the faculty members in your program.  Make appointments with them a few months into the semester.  This is especially important if you are enrolled in a master’s program and you want to enroll in Ph.D. programs in the future.  Most master’s programs are short and you need to get yourself on the radar screen of faculty members right away so that they are willing to write letters of recommendation for you.  Getting to know faculty members and having good intellectual conversations and debates will stimulate your thinking.

3.  Ask faculty members if you can help them conduct research and write articles.  You can do this in one of three ways: serve as a research assistant for a faculty member and learn the ways of writing and research in an apprentice-like way; ask to be a partner in a current research project (making sure to negotiate co-authorship if there are publications involved); or bring one of your own ideas to a faculty member and ask them to partner with you and serve as a co-author (with your name as first author).  One of the best ways of learning in graduate school is through collaboration around ideas.

4.  If you truly enjoy a class that you are taking and you do well when grades are given at the end of the semester, ask the professor if you can serve as a teaching assistant (paid or unpaid) for the class the next time it’s offered.  As a teaching assistant, you can gain experience grading, facilitating class discussions, lecturing, and designing a syllabus. 

5.  Most universities have many different cultural events, speakers, and organizational activities.  Frequent these.  The relationships that you establish across disciplines can be wonderfully beneficial and long lasting.  In addition, interacting with people outside your program or discipline keeps you on your toes and intellectually stimulated.

6.  Read, read, read.  Although there is typically more reading assigned than can possibly be digested in graduate school, do it or as much of it as you can!  Being well read is essential in life, especially if you plan on being a professor.  In addition, reading makes for better writing.  Study the way people write, keep track of smart phrases and uses of language and pull them out later when you are writing.  Read all kinds of things — fiction, magazines, newspapers, journals, blogs — reading non-academic works keeps you in touch with the rest of the world and stimulates creative thinking.

7.  Attend conferences even if it means rooming with lots of other students.  Sometimes graduate students make the mistake of only operating within their own institutions or only listening to the perspectives of their program’s faculty members — don’t do that!  Get out there and gain many different perspectives.

8.  Get in the habit of writing every day.  There is a great deal of research that shows that if you write every day, you will be a better writer, a more productive writer, and that writing will come more easily to you.  Writing becomes natural instead of feeling forced.  Even an hour a day can keep you motivated.

9. Stay focused on ideas and not academic politics.  Asa Hilliard, my wonderful mentor, gave me the best advice when I was a new faculty member.  He said, “live for ideas not academic politics” — such sound advice.  I have faltered a few times, but once my head clears, I let the politics go and get back to the work.  The work is what is important to making change and making a difference in the lives of others.

10.  Make sure that you give as much as you get.  Find something about which you feel immense passion and give as much as you can to whatever it is.  The only way to sustain an academic career, or any career for that matter, is to pursue something that makes you want to get up each day and go at it. 

Good luck new students!

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).


The NCLBification of Higher Education

By Emery Petchauer

One of the most significant yet subtle ways that the No Child Left Behind Act has affected higher education is by shaping the requirements for students intending to become teachers. In this way, although NCLB is a federal act directed at K-12 education, its effects have traveled up the educational ladder into higher education.

Here is how it works:

In order for teacher education programs to be accredited by states or bodies such as National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, programs must graduate Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT), which is a central aspect of NCLB. Generally, being highly qualified means completing an accredited teacher education program and passing certification tests (e.g. Praxis I, Praxis II in most states) — all in the discipline one plans to teach. While these are not new ideas, what is new is requiring students to pass the first part of a certification exam (again, often Praxis I) before allowing them to declare education as a major or take upper division classes. Making students pass the first part of a certification exam helps ensure that graduates will be highly qualified; it is a gatekeeper that disallows students from matriculating through their programs and getting to senior year with little chance of graduating as highly qualified. To state this process more simply, in many states such as Pennsylvania, students must now test into teacher education programs.

These policies and implications do not have significant effects on large universities with significant numbers of students planning to become teachers. In fact, it is likely that the policies go undetected by most faculty members. Students who cannot pass the tests for a variety of reasons (e.g., deficient high school educations, have not mastered dominant culture standardized testing norms) often change majors or transfer to institutions that can offer them more support to pass exams. At many large institutions, enough students are able to pass the exams on their own, so programs maintain a critical mass of students graduating as HQT to support their accreditation.

However, the policies and implications have significant effects on smaller institutions, particularly those that serve students who have been underserved by their secondary schools and have been on the lower end of the high school achievement (or opportunity) gap. In essence, these students have a short amount of time (about three semesters) to develop the dominant culture norms and skills of standardized tests and fill any gaps in reading, writing or math so that they can pass the entrance exam, declare their majors and take upper level classes. As one can imagine, this situation can create incredible amounts of stress for students, which further inhibits optimum performance.

Overall, this system — or what I call the NLCBification of higher education — creates more barriers for working class and ethnic minority students to enter the teaching profession.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current

research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

Where are Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders in Higher Education?

By Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui

How does your university or college classify Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander students and faculty? Most continue to misclassify Pacific peoples within the Asian category, despite the fact that over a decade ago, the federal government issued a policy directive to create the racial category of “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander.” The implications of this misclassification are detrimental to the recruitment and retention of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders in higher education. For example, at Wesleyan University, where I teach, the profile of the class of 2012 does not even list this category under its “students of color” category (it also leaves out the category American Indians and Alaska Natives), which only includes: “Black/African American,” “Asian/Asian American,” and “Latino/Hispanics.”

The addition of the “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” category was made in 1997, when the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued Directive 15: Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative required by Congress since 1977. These standards are required by Congress and have guided the collection of racial and ethnic data by federal agencies, researchers, business and industry.

The impetus for this action was to disaggregate Pacific Islanders from Asian Americans. Native Hawaiians led the fight for this change because the widely accepted administrative term “Asian Pacific American” —coined during the Reagan era and used by social agencies for their administrative convenience—like “Asian-Pacific Islander” conflate two distinct pan-ethnic groups, to the continuing disadvantage of Pacific Islanders whose histories, ongoing struggles for sovereignty, and political futures diverge significantly from those of Asian Americans. Historically, this mis-categorization has proved especially difficulty for Native Hawaiians who have alternately been grouped with American Indians in numerous legislative acts pertaining to health, housing, and education. Yet despite being treated as indigenous on the one hand, Native Hawaiians continue to be classified as immigrant descendants on the other.

The problematic terms “Asian-Pacific American” (APA) and “Asian Pacific Islander” (API) not only offer no recognition that Pacific Islanders already constitute a pan-ethnic group that is distinct from Asian Americans, they also efface Pacific political claims based on indigeneity. For example, indigenous Pacific Islanders who have ties to islands that were forcibly incorporated into the United States (Hawai`i, Guam, American Samoa) have outstanding sovereignty and land claims, based on international principles of self-determination, which get erased by the categorization with Asians. Hence the frameworks for understanding the ills affecting Pacific peoples and their political claims are shaped by imperialism and settler colonialism, not simply civil rights.

We need to uncouple “Asian” and “Pacific” in order to examine these concerns, especially in higher education, where the socio-economic profiles of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are severely distorted due to the continued problematic lumping with Asian Americans. The UCLA Asian American Studies Center recently sent out a press release, under the auspices of the AAPI Nexus: Asian American Pacific Islander Policy, Practice, and Community, titled: “Beyond the ‘Whiz Kid’ Stereotype: New Research on Asian American and Pacific Islander Youth.” Since when have Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, Chamorros, or any other Pacific Islander youth been portrayed or stereotyped as “whiz kids”? The model minority has never been a stereotype put upon Pacific Islander peoples; instead, we have stereotypes of the dumb, lazy, and simple-minded.

Pacific Islanders as a whole are too easily disappeared in terms of social, cultural and political profiles, not only because of the continued aggregation with Asian Americans, but also because we are too often seen as inconsequential by virtue of our small numbers. This is illustrated by the fact that most of the general public still has no conception of Pacific Islanders as a pan-ethnic grouping.

Fortunately, as an official U.S. Census Information Center, the UCLA Asian American Studies Center has provided a 2008 statistical portrait of these communities in two parts. The first section provides information on “Asians,” while the second part highlights “Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders.” These data sets reveal the disparity between the two pan-ethnic groups that gets obfuscated whenever the terms “AAPI,” “API” and “APA” are used in reporting socio-economic profiles for Asian Americans while purporting to include Pacific Islanders in those same reports. For example, according to the Center’s website, only 14 percent of those who identified as single-race Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders 25 years of age and older have at least a bachelor’s degree in comparison with 27 percent for the total population and 49 percent of the Asian American population. Only 4 percent of Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders 25 and older have obtained a graduate or professional degree, compared with 10 percent for the total population and 20 percent of Asian Americans. Yet, despite the sharp contrast between how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are faring in terms of obtaining higher education, there are numerous studies misreporting that Pacific Islanders are doing better than whites in obtaining higher education, when that is far from the case, because of the lumping of Pacific people with Asians.

In detailing how the federal government should better serve Pacific Islander communities, we need disaggregated statistics, research, and data. The implications for not doing so are deeply disingenuous; moreover, they are unethical. Only then will we be able to get a clearer picture of the status of Pacific peoples in the United States and increase the socio-economic status of these communities. This must begin with the compliance of institutions of higher learning with the federal directive of 1997. All colleges and universities should institutionalize the category “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” in their recruitment programs, administrative applications, summary profiles, and all data for admissions, matriculation, attrition, and retention. Otherwise, potential students from these backgrounds are effectively erased as targets for recruitment while subsumed and lumped under a category where they are said to be among the most educated when they are actually severely underrepresented.

Dr. J. Kehaulani Kauanui is an associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University, Her first book, Hawaiian Blood: Colonialism and the Politics of Indigeneity and Sovereignty, is forthcoming from Duke University Press in October 2008. She is also the host and producer of a weekly public affairs radio program, “Indigenous Politics: From Native New England and Beyond,” at WESU, Middletown, CT.

HBCUs Here and in South Africa — Common Missions, Common Challenges

By Dr. Marybeth Gasman

I just returned from leading a study abroad program in South Africa, which focused on the country’s higher education system, history, and culture.  This was my fifth visit to the country and, just as in the past, I learned immensely from the experience. 

What is always most interesting about taking students to South Africa is watching them notice racism, inequity, and the lack of access for the country’s Black and “Coloured” students.  Many of my students, in particular those in the majority, are quick to point out these issues of inequality when they see them in another country, but have difficulty seeing them in the United States. I often wonder why.

During the study abroad we visited various institutions of higher education; among these were the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the University of Cape Town (UCT).  Upon arrival at UWC, a historically black institution under the apartheid government, my students immediately noticed the aging facilities, remote almost desolate location, dark hallways, and fiercely cold classrooms.  In comparison, UCT, a formerly English-speaking, White university was lush and built into the mountain side above the city.  The students could understand the existence of such stark inequities under the apartheid system – especially given UWC’s resistance stance against the apartheid regime, but wondered how inequality could remain under South Africa’s new democratic government.  Wouldn’t the new government, sometime during the last 14 years, have addressed the inequities between these two institutions?

What my students discovered was that higher education funding in South Africa is linked, in part, to graduation success.  Yes, public universities receive funding based on enrollment figures, but a good amount of funding is linked to graduation outcomes.  In theory, and especially in our accountability-driven nation, linking funding to graduation success may sound like an excellent idea.  However, UWC, like many of our nation’s HBCUs, has maintained a mission that is committed to serving low-income and underrepresented students (Blacks and “Coloureds” in South Africa).  Because these students often come from areas of dire poverty (no electricity, no running water, make-shift housing, and high unemployment), poor primary and secondary education, and are often first-generation students, they are less likely to graduate regardless of the efforts of UWC.  UCT, although making sincere attempts to serve underrepresented students, is less willing to take a risk during its admission processes.  Taking less of a risk on students equals greater graduation success and thus more funding. 

Just like their South African counterparts, public HBCUs in the United States have a history of being unequally funded.  Although some states are trying to rectify the inequities in funding Black colleges, others have yet to take on this challenge.  According to Michigan State University professor James T. Minor, “When comparing state funding, per student inequities become evermore apparent. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University [historically White institutions] receive approximately $15,700 in state funding per student. In comparison, students at North Carolina A & T and Fayetteville State University [both HBCUs] receive approximately $7,800 each in state appropriations.” 

The unique mission of UWC was crystal clear to my students; they understood why the institution had lower graduation rates and why it clung to its mission.  Of course, we see a similar situation here in the United States with our HBCUs.  Many Black colleges and universities serve underprepared, low-income African Americans, taking a chance on whether or not these students will graduate.  Although HBCUs are often criticized for their low graduation rates, what we fail to notice is the value added impact these institutions have.  Research shows that HBCUs overall graduate a disproportionate number of African American students compared to their historically White counterparts, and do so with far less funding.  Imagine the possiblities for the United States and South Africa in terms of providing equity for Black with equal funding of HBCUs!

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).

The Intersection of Presidential Politics, Race, Culture, and Higher Learning

By Dr. Pamela Reed


Much has been made of education levels and voting patterns in the Presidential nominating contests of the Democratic Party for the 2008 general election, particularly since Barack Obama emerged as the presumptive nominee. Well almost. Week after week, exit polls indicate that highly educated White Americans—Democrats, Independents and even some Republicans—are more likely to cast a vote for Senator Barack Obama. 

By contrast, those Democrats with no college education tend to support Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, even when most experts agree that she has absolutely no chance of overcoming Obama’s pledged delegate lead.  An even more curious statistic is that the majority of these same respondents often express doubts about Clinton’s trustworthiness.    

Further, the polls also report that rather than pulling the proverbial lever for Obama in November, well over one-third of Democratic respondents with no college education maintain that they will vote for the Republican John McCain in November.  This, even after the undeniably disastrous soon-to-be eight years of the George W. Bush-led Republican era in America—and at a time when gasoline is now priced at, near or over $4 a gallon, and the Iraq War rages on, well into its sixth year, now longer than both World War I and World War II. 

What are we to make of this pattern?  Does this mean that Whites with only a high school education are not smart enough to realize that John McCain represents a continuation of the Bush/Cheney policies that have many of us holding our collective breath, lest we too find ourselves inhabiting the proverbial Poor House?  Or does it suggest that these Whites with less education are too racist to vote solely on the basis of merit, irregardless of race?  That is, is there a direct correlation between education level and  “racial tolerance”?  After all, significant numbers of Whites with no college education, when polled, say that race is a factor in their voting.

To the contrary, it is this writer’s perspective that it is not a matter of intellectual capacity, but cultural competence that is lacking in these White voters who have not matriculated in institutions of higher learning.  After all, studies indicate that cultural maturity can be a major benefit of college education, particularly at culturally diverse institutions. For instance in 2000, arguing in favor of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action standards, a consortium of Fortune 500 corporations offered in a court brief that students imbued with the richness of higher education in a diverse university setting are more likely to understand, appreciate and willingly work with those of varied racial and cultural backgrounds.

In view of this, it is not a stretch to suggest that this same principle can be extended in the area of voting patterns.  This is the only reasonable explanation for the willingness of some Democrats to consider voting for the Republican candidate for President of the United States, at a time when few would argue  that we are approaching a point-of-no-return with regard to the American standard of living—thanks to the policies of the Republicans.

I think this is what Barack Obama was attempting to say in his historically clumsy “bitter” remarks, in response to a question about the unwillingness of many “blue collar” voters in Pennsylvania to consider voting for him (the same people who Governor Ed Rendell announced would not vote for an African American candidate).  He was not saying that people “cling” to God and guns ONLY because of tough economic times. 

What he was trying to say, at least in the mind of this registered Independent, is that some White Americans—primarily those with no college education— even when confronted with the obvious shortcomings of the economic policies of the Republican Party, which are directly attributable to their own (and all of America’s) personal hardship, will then tend to look to other Republican platform planks to stand on.  That is right-to-life issues, gun control, gay marriage, etc.

Perhaps nothing speaks more to the need for diversity and inclusion infusion in the American education system than this political quandary. Clearly, we can no longer afford to put off this cultural enrichment for post-secondary education. After all, alarming numbers of American students are failing to even reach the high school graduate threshold. The good news, though, is that intercultural competence levels are on the rise in the United States; however, one need not be a rocket scientist to realize that there is still much more work to be done. And it must begin at the very earliest stages of American pedagogy.  Our very future depends upon it.



Dr. Pamela D. Reed is a diversity consultant and assistant professor of English and African-American literature at Virginia State University.