Hurts Historically Black Colleges and Universities
by Sean Turner
A New Visions Commentary
paper published August 2003 by The National Center for Public
Policy Research, 501 Capitol Ct., N.E., Washington, DC 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax 202-543-5975, E-Mail Project21@nationalcenter.org,
Reprints permitted provided source is credited.
Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia,
having recently lost its accreditation, has suspended its sports
programs and laid off its coaches.
Unfortunately, Morris Brown is not alone
among a growing list of historically black colleges and universities,
or HBCUs, that are facing extinction due to financial or academic
woes. Grambling State University in Louisiana, known for legendary
football coach Eddie Robinson, faces a similar threat due to
As many as six HBCUs have recently been
given warnings or been placed on probation by accreditation agencies.
Many others are struggling with budget shortfalls, ill-prepared
students and inadequate facilities. Financial mismanagement notwithstanding,
what other significant factor has contributed to the bleak future
of HBCUs? The answer lies at the feet of an initiative whose
intent was to redress past racial and sexual discrimination:
The history of HBCUs predates the Civil
War. Cheyney University, the first HBCU, was founded by Richard
Humphreys in Pennsylvania in 1837. Humphreys was a Quaker philanthropist
from Philadelphia who started the then-named "Institute
for Colored Youth" to counter the prevailing practice of
limiting or prohibiting the education of blacks.
Despite the economic effects of the Great
Depression, between 1929 and 1940, enrollment at HBCUs rose by
66 percent compared to a rise of 36 percent at all colleges.
By 1940, 85 percent of blacks that attended college went to HBCUs.
Desegregation, however, provided the
opportunity for blacks to attend traditionally white schools.
Naturally, this drew some of the brightest black students and
professors away from traditionally black colleges in the process.
In 1965, an executive order issued by President Lyndon Johnson
required government contractors to "take affirmative action"
toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring
and employment. This order was later amended in 1967 to cover
discrimination on the basis of gender.
Increasingly, many HBCUs are having trouble
competing for students, faculty and money. Major public and private
schools began aggressively recruiting black applicants to meet
racial quotas precipitated by affirmative action. By 1971, only
34 percent of black college students were enrolling in HBCUs
and that figure dropped to just 18 percent in 2000. Declining
enrollments led some schools to market themselves to a broader
demographic, with low tuitions attracting an increasing number
of white students.
Today, there are roughly 105 HBCUs. However,
over the past 26 years, 12 HBCU's have closed - primarily due
to money problems resulting from declining enrollments and endowments.
Contributing to this phenomenon is the continual push for racial
quotas in predominately white colleges in the guise of so-called
As government officials, civil rights
leaders and others remain steadfast in their support of such
discriminatory practices, a significant number of black students
continually fail or drop out of colleges in which they are unprepared
to compete academically.
These are among the many unintended consequences
of affirmative action or quotas. Many supporters of both the
existence of HBCUs and affirmative action either ignore or fail
to realize the cancerous relationship between the two.
As the admissions standards of predominately
white colleges are continually lowered to satisfy the "diversity"
façade, so too is the viability of HBCUs - save a few.
Will supporters of affirmative action and HBCUs acknowledge this
trend, and decide which is more precious? Perhaps, but only after
more HBCUs follow in the footsteps of Morris Brown, and legacies
of academic achievement among blacks in America have been lost
to the history books.
(Sean Turner is a member of
the Project 21 National Advisory Council.Comments may be sent
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author,
and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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