Hard Times for Howard University and the H.B.C.U.s!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today on the plight of Howard University and other historically black colleges and universities (H.B.C.U.s).   The article mentions finances, enrollment issues, and competition with other segments of American higher education as the main problems facing Howard and the other H.B.C.U.s.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“Historically black colleges and universities, known as H.B.C.U.’s, once held a monopoly. Today, they struggle to compete with elite colleges that have stepped up recruiting for the best and brightest black students. Howard admitted almost 60 percent of applicants last year; among current freshmen, the top 25 percent in SAT math and reading scored 1190 and up; 15 years ago the threshold was 1330.

Other uncomfortable realities include new restrictions on the federal loans that many students depend on (89 percent of Howard’s receive some sort of financial aid). Howard’s teaching hospital has also been a drain on resources; once the sole choice for middle-class patients in a segregated society, it is now used mostly by those who cannot afford to pay elsewhere. And Howard has been hit with a downgrade of its credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service that makes fund-raising even more difficult. This week, the university announced it is cutting about 200 staff positions.”

While overall economic issues in the United States have been problematic for all of higher education, the point made about competition with other elite colleges is probably the most pressing for the H.B.C.U.s and especially for Howard often referred to as The Mecca of black scholarship and leadership.  When higher education was desegregated in the 1960s, many black students including high achievers decided to enroll in what were predominantly white colleges.  The reverse was not true and the percentages of white students attending HBCUs has remained relatively small.

The H.B.C.U.s have been an important and critical segment of American higher education.  It will take dynamic and visionary leadership for them to overcome their problems.


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