Historically Black for Whom? A Challenge for 21st Century Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Embrace Blackness, Just Blackness

There’s no doubt that U.S. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have provided access for individuals who have been historically marginalized and oppressed in U.S. society simply because they were African American/Black. In fact, HBCUs were the only option for many African Americans/Blacks well into the 20th century. HBCUs, as defined by the Higher Education Act of 1965, are “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans.” At the same time, the doors of HBCUs have always been open to those who do not identify as African American/Black.

Today, 107 HBCUs still provide postsecondary access for African Americans/Blacks with other options, and they provide access for African Americans/Blacks who would not attend college without an HBCU taking a chance on them. As proof, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) notes that HBCUs make up just 3% of the colleges and universities across the United States, but graduate 25% of African Americans/Blacks who receive undergraduate degrees.

The gains of HBCU graduates are also remarkable despite modest financial resources at HBCUs. In a recent Gallup study, HBCU graduates were thriving more than non-HBCU graduates in five categories of well-being: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical. In addition, a report by the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania highlights several studies conducted by Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn, director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise and Professor of Higher Education at The Ohio State University. Strayhorn found positive outcomes for HBCU graduates, such as higher-status occupations and more developed Black identities. While his findings highlight positive Black identities generally, what happens when individuals’ full Black identities, or the intersections of their identities, are not embraced at an HBCU?

In 2009, the “appropriate attire policy” at Morehouse College—a small, all-male HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia—drew the attention of the nation when it released a new dress code policy, which included a ban on cross-dressing. In 2013, a Muslim student attending Hampton University—a private HBCU located in Hampton, Virginia—was asked to retrieve her student identification card to “prove” her Muslim faith in order to wear a hijab. In 2015, Shaw University—a private HBCU in Raleigh, North Carolina—was cited by the U.S. Department of Education for discriminating against a student with cerebral palsy after accepting the student and then later rescinding the student’s acceptance because the university could not appropriately accommodate the student’s disability. So while HBCUs are praised for embracing African American/Black students, the aforementioned stories show how many African American/Black students are pushed toward the margins at HBCUs. At the same time, given recent social movements highlighting racial injustices, these students need HBCUs more than ever.

The Black Lives Matter movement, founded by Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza in 2012 after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, has ushered in a national conversation and greater awareness about anti-Black racism. And perhaps the most important point of the movement is that it fights for all Black lives as it focuses on those who “have been marginalized within Black liberation movements” and, we would add, those who have been historically marginalized at HBCUs. The movement aligns with what Black women, such as Patricia Hill Collins, Anna Julia Cooper, Bonnie Thornton Dill, bell hooks, and Sojourner Truth, have written or spoken about for decades, and what Kimberlé Crenshaw eventually coined as intersectionality. Crenshaw’s articulation of intersectionality can be defined as the marginalization and systemic oppression of Black women who are “theoretically erased” when discussing discrimination, oppression, and marginalization in siloed ways (e.g., just racism, just sexism). This includes ignoring the intersections of their identities (e.g., race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and religion) and how Black women are further marginalized because of the interlocking systems of oppression working against them.

When discussing intersectionality as a useful framework to promote college student success, every college and university administrator I’ve known claims to want all students to reach their educational goals . Still, programs, policies, and practices across colleges and universities often marginalize and oppress students; because of this, not all students can reach their potential or the educational goals that administrators says they fully support. HBCUs, which we support and have praised at the top of this article, must be better, do better, and must embrace Blackness, just Blackness—or all of who African American/Black people are. (Blackness, just Blackness follows a cadence borrowed from Gloria Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who spoke about justice, just justice.)

In 2015, students at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, highlighted the racial marginalization and oppression that many African American students face at predominantly White institutions across the nation. For us, similar social justice movements across college campuses also highlight those with multiple marginalized identities who often have no place to reach their full potential. For example, the Black, lesbian, first-year student who has to decide whether to attend a predominantly White institution, where her race is marginalized, versus an HBCU, where her sexual orientation is marginalized, may be choosing between two institutions that are not accepting Blackness, just Blackness. As HBCUs promote missions of social justice and racial advancement, this is our clarion call for HBCUs to live out the full potential of their powerful creeds and fully support, fully embrace, and educate African Americans/Blacks who have been historically marginalized across the nation and on HBCU campuses.

Spelman College—an all-female college in Atlanta, Georgia—is currently wrestling with living out its mission as it is considering admitting transgender women for the first time in its history. Shaw University was wrestling to live out its mission as it quickly acknowledged its error, readmitted the student with cerebral palsy, and made appropriate accommodations for the student. Morehouse College was wrestling to live out its full mission when it offered its first LGBT course in 2012. Paul Quinn College—a small private HBCU in Dallas, Texas—is wrestling to live out its mission with its “Put Students to Work” program, with the goal to reduce graduates’ debt loads.

More HBCUs must wrestle to live out their missions by moving beyond respectability politics and creating pathways where all African African/Black students are educated on campuses where they learn, live, and thrive. HBCUs must embrace Blackness, just Blackness, so no student has to question, “Historically Black for whom?”

Suggested Readings*

Banks, J., & Gipson, S. (2016). The voices of African American male students with disabilities attending historically Black universities. Journal of African American Males in Education, 7(1), 70–86.

Davis, A. T. (2011, winter). HBCU’s disability support services: An institutional pespective (sic). Journal of Intercultural Disciplines, 9, 100–111.

Harper, S. R., & Gasman, M. (2008). Consequences of conservatism: Black male students and the politics of historically Black colleges and universities. Journal of Negro Education, 77(4), 336–351.

Haughton, C. D., Jr. (1993). Expanding the circle of inclusion for African-Americans with disabilities: A national opportunity for Black colleges. Black Collegian, 23(4), 2–7.

Means, D. R., & Jaeger, A. J. (2013). Black in the rainbow: “Quaring” the Black gay male student experience at historically Black universities. Journal of African American Males in Education, 4(2), 124–140.

Patton, L. D. (2011). Perspectives on identity, disclosure and the campus environment among African American gay and bisexual men at one historically Black college. Journal of College Student Development, 52(1), 77–100.

Patton, L. D. (2014). Preserving respectability or blatant disrespect: A critical discourse analysis of the Morehouse College Appropriate Attire Policy and implications for intersectional approaches to examining campus policies. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 27(6), 724–746.

Patton, L. D., & Simmons, S. (2008). Exploring complexities of multiple Identities of lesbians in a Black college environment. Negro Educational Review, 59(3–4), 197–215.

Strayhorn, T. L., Glover, S. T., Kitchen, J. A., & Williams, M. S. (2013). Negotiating multiple identities: A critical narrative inquiry of how Black gay men “make it” at historically Black colleges and universities. NASAP Journal, 15(1), 42–56.

Strayhorn, T. L., & Scott, J. A. (2012). Coming out of the dark: Black gay men’s experiences at historically Black colleges and universities. In R. T. Palmer & J. L. Wood (Eds.), Black men in black colleges: Implications for HBCUs and beyond (pp. 26–40). New York, NY: Routledge.

*These readings are not endorsed by the authors, but each reading explores the experiences of Black/African American students with multiple marginalized identities attending HBCUs.


Donald Mitchell, Jr., Ph.D., is assistant professor and program coordinator for the M.Ed. in Higher Education program at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His work theoretically and empirically explores the effects of race, gender, and identity intersections within higher education contexts, with a particular interest in historically Black fraternities and sororities and historically Black colleges and universities as microsystems and macrosystems of analysis.

Adriel A. Hilton, Ph.D., is the immediate past chief of staff and executive assistant to the president at Grambling State University, where he served as senior advisor to the president. He previously served as an assistant professor and director of the Higher Education Student Affairs program at Western Carolina University. In addition, he served as the inaugural assistant vice president for inclusion initiatives at Grand Valley State University.

What was “Not For Me”: Reflections on Study Abroad Programs and the Changing Face of International Study


William Arce

Yes, I was hesitant. As a tenure-track assistant professor, I need my summer time. My summer is spent writing and researching, developing syllabi for the fall semester, and scheduling “me-time” in order to ameliorate the frenetic pace of the school year. Summer time is the tonic to my work-related stress. So when the President of my home institution, California State University, Fresno (FresnoState), invited me to participate in two different summer programs, I was tempted to say, “Thank you, but I’ve already committed my summer to writing and researching.” (I’ve learned to politely decline invitations to participate in school-based activities by claiming that I have committed to other school-based activities). Participating in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI’s) program “ELEVATE,” and the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE’s) program “International Faculty Development Seminar” (IFDS) seemed like too much; even the names of these programs sounded overwhelming.

Still, the expressed objective driving the partnership between CMSI and CIEE was important to me; it addressed a problematic sentiment I held during my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley regarding study abroad programs. The online literature discussing the partnership stated that they wanted to change the face of study abroad for students of color. Marybeth Gasman, the Director of CMSI, is quoted on CMSI’s homepage as stating, “Together, we are working to break down the barriers of cost, curriculum, and culture that prevent far too many students of color from experiencing international study. This significant financial support will have a direct impact on some of our country’s brightest students.” Her words struck a chord with me.

During my undergraduate years, I thought of study abroad programs as “not-for-me,” but rather as programs designed for, and targeted to, white Americans. In those days, advertisement for study abroad programs usually displayed images of young white students in European countries next to famous landmarks, or in “exotic” locations photographed next to dark-skinned native people who looked like me. My parents are both immigrants from Costa Rica, and I grew up in the poverty-stricken barrios of South Central, Los Angeles, during the region’s violent years of the 1980s. Worse yet, I believed countries hosting study abroad programs expected white Americans, not displaced natives from developing countries such as myself, to visit their country. I remember wanting to go, but would make excuses for not participating, such as affordability and graduation schedule. In reality, it was the “not-for-me” sentiment that barred me from pursuing what I secretly imagined would be a wildly exciting adventure. In retrospect, I understand my belief was inaccurate, that hype and hate had overwhelmed hope, and I had become my own obstacle. I successfully completed my education (including a post-doctoral degree) without setting foot in foreign libraries .

I am now an assistant professor conducting research specific to Latino literature in the mainland U.S. and the Caribbean (Puerto Rico). My research, much like my identity, has greatly benefited from exposure to different peoples, to diverse ways of processing knowledge. I consider myself an Estadunidense (Spanish word for “from the U.S.”), but aspire to become a global citizen. I sincerely believe in the experiential knowledge that travel provides, and consequently, I accepted the invitation to participate in both programs hoping to find in CMSI and CIEE the pedagogical tools necessary to convey to my students the intellectual maturity that accompanies cross-cultural exchanges. As an undergraduate, I had not participated in study abroad programs, but perhaps, as a professor I could still commune with its zeitgeist.

My experience at CMSI’s ELEVATE was phenomenal. It was only three days long, but intensely informative. Marybeth Gasman, one of the nation’s leading scholars on Minority Serving Institutions, led the program from start to finish. She was generous with her time and exuded an old-fashioned can-do attitude. In collaboration with the Director, CMSI’s staff helped transform the Center into a lean and efficient organization collectively working toward a single goal: to help ELEVATE participants achieve tenure. Yearly tenure reviews, publication schedules, grant writing, mentorship, pedagogy, even life balance issues were discussed in timely, well-organized sessions. I was grateful to have access to CMSI’s resources while on-site, and for the delicious food they provided throughout the day. Due to my participation in ELEVATE, I forged new professional relationships that have already yielded publication opportunities.

Weeks later, I was fortunate to reconnect with various participants of ELEVATE during the CIEE’s International Faculty Development Seminar (IFLS) in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic. CIEE is a non-profit service provider for faculty-led study abroad programs. The program is designed to train faculty participants to lead study abroad programs for their respective home institutions. From the beginning, it was clear CIEE’s staff members were students of the local environment: they held a deep knowledge of Dominican culture, history and its important geographical landmarks. The entire staff was dynamo, which made the experience both informative and outright fun. I had previously visited Santo Domingo as a tourist and did the “touristy” things– museums, historical landmarks and its world-famous beaches. However, CIEE allowed me to experience Santo Domingo through an entirely new perspective: with them, I was a student of culture exploring the vitality of the Dominican people. In the afternoons, IFLS’s participants would debrief, discussing emotional reactions to specific site visits and the methods/logistics necessary to organize similar experiences for students. CIEE is to study abroad programs, what a chisel is to a sculptor: it helps transform an idea into reality, but you have to do the work. I am many years removed from my undergraduate education, yet CIEE’s program allowed me to feel the beauty of being a student once more while intellectually engaging me as an academic. It was the best of both worlds.

I am excited to develop a faculty-led, study abroad course at FresnoState. I am currently working on the theme of the course and deciding what nation to visit with students. I learned from my experiences at CIEE and CMSI that one can commit to projects that retain personal importance while remaining vigilant of one’s time. Yes, it is only one small class, but I take comfort in knowing that it contributes to the larger efforts by CMSI and CIEE to change the face of study abroad programs across the United States.

William Arce is an Assistant Professor at CSU Fresno (FresnoState). He received his Bachelors degree from the University of California at Berkeley, his PhD from the University of Southern California and completed a Post Doctoral Fellowship at Bowdoin College. Dr. Arce’s scholarship and teaching covers two fields: 20th Century American war literature and US Latino/a literary histories. His book project titled, Soldado Raso: Nation and Masculinity in US Latino Literature of the Vietnam War, places US Latino writings about the Vietnam War in conversation with current discussions regarding masculinity and national belonging.

Developing a Coordinated Social Media Campaign to Garner Attention for HBCUs

Building off the previous blogs and the relative invisibility of HBCUs to the students they could serve well, another strategy exists to increase enrollment at HBCUS: a social media campaign that highlights the achievements and benefits of HBCUs as well as the success of their alumni. Indeed, the absence of a social media presence for HBCUs is striking, both in terms of individual institutions and as a collective. We also see an absence of positive coverage of HBCUs in the mainstream media; sadly, the accomplishments of these institutions receive far less attention than stories of institutional failure.

A collective social media campaign should feature the following: (1) a focus on a youth audience, many of whom are active on social media already; (2) identification and description of the remarkable graduates of HBCUs across the disciplines, including such luminaries as James Weldon Johnson and Toni Morrison; (3) the strengths many HBCUs have in STEM and the high percentage of graduates who progress into healthcare fields and the sciences; and (4) exemplary programs that enable HBCU students to excel in their fields and contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society. The campaign could combine speech excerpts, musical compositions, songs, poetry, art, awards, and scientific achievements and discoveries.

Although lists currently exist, one novel approach would be to construct unique, quality lists that appeal specifically to young, college-bound audiences. There could be various lists of HBCU graduates by field or career—imagine lists of young HBCU graduates who are teachers, scientists, doctors, politicians, actors, authors, or artists. There could be a list of HBCU graduates who won prestigious awards both in the United States and abroad. Importantly, these lists would have value to a wide audience—prospective students and their families, school counselors, and teachers as well as the larger population that may not have extensive knowledge about HBCUs. Improved knowledge about the strengths of HBCUs would do more than increasing enrollment—it could build pride, improve donations, and even foster more public attention for these institutions.

While there are many ways to construct such a campaign, we believe that a consortium of students at HBCUs could play a key role in energizing this social media campaign. Students, with the help of advisors, could work collectively to design the campaign, drawing on their own motivations to attend HBCUs to attract other students to these institutions. And, if the consortia became more permanent, they could change and adjust the campaign over time to stay up-to-date with future college hopefuls.

Another option to develop a social media campaign is for HBCUs to hold a contest where ideas for campaigns are submitted and selected by committee. For example, individual colleges or universities could design a social media campaign that could then be judged and selected by a panel of experts among HBCUs. The key here is that the campaigns would champion HBCUs in general as opposed to a single HBCU and they would be student-designed—this would allow all HBCUs to benefit. There could be a short film/video component to the contest, where students produce films that showcase the strengths of HBCUs with lists, music, interviews, collages, images, etc. The students would only be limited by their imaginations.

There are strong reasons to foster a student-centered, student-created social media campaign. First, these students will know—better than many adults—what would attract high school students to college in general and HBCUs in particular. Second, students at HBCUs would themselves gain skills in social media campaigns that would serve them well in the job market.

In terms of cost, the contest or collective effort could produce course credit. That could make it fiscally feasible, as it could be built into a course rather than require additional funding. Or, participating HBCUs could each donate $1000 in order to crowdfund the effort. The collective money would certainly be enough for a student-led initiative to launch through social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat, among other outlets.

There is nothing to lose (except perhaps time and a modest amount of money) to enact change by adopting the strategies suggested by this series of blog posts. The time for lamenting the state of HBCUs and their declining enrollment is long past; the time to act is now, as the population of diverse, low-income students continues to grow. These are the students of tomorrow but we need to help them today.

This series represents a serious effort to move the needle on student access to HBCUs. Even if our suggestions are tweaked or challenged, we hope that we have at least begun the conversation in earnest. Thank you for reading!

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.

High School Counselors and Their College Knowledge: A Sad State of Affairs for HBCUs

Part 3 of a 4 Part Blog Series

A key aspect of college enrollment begins by asking this seemingly innocuous question: how do most low-income, first-generation students find out about colleges that will be a good fit for them? These students can look on the web, including at College Scorecard or at popular college guides like those examined in the first blog post of this series. They can also confer with friends and mentors and teachers. Or they—as many students do—can gain a plethora of information and assistance from school counselors.

Sadly, despite the fact that high school counselors often have “college counseling” in their job description, here are four data points/observations that highlight the shakiness of the assumption that high school students receive quality individualized college counseling.

  • Approximately 85% of high-needs students do not receive the services necessary to progress successfully to college.

In addition to these data points, as Harvard Education Professor Mandy Savitz-Romer points out, many high school counselors do not get adequate preparation in college counseling in their graduate education; many do not have quality post-employment professional development opportunities; and school counselors lack the basic requisite knowledge to advise students on college admission and financial aid. In short, high school counselors are not as well trained as they could or should be in college counseling, even if many do their jobs well otherwise.

Given the paucity of counselors and their lack of training, we need ways that change how we educate school counselors to ensure that they are truly “up to speed” with the most recent information about both colleges and financial aid. We also need more counselors to provide individualized advising, a key component of success as supported in the literature. And finally, we need to increase the knowledge and information flow about options like HBCUs, with specific attention focused on high schools in diverse and low-income neighborhoods.

For HBCUs in particular, increasing their exposure to high school students is a tricky proposition. One avenue to achieve this end would be to have HBCUs themselves undertake outreach to college counselors, but this is hard to do when institutions are fiscally stretched. Alternatively, the College Advising Corps could provide some assistance, though it would be difficult to gauge their capacity and interest level.

We propose two possible solutions, neither grandiose in approach but both of which are fiscally doable over the short term:

First, HBCUs should, as a collective, create a top-ten list for why low-income, minority students would be well served by attending HBCUs. This list could then be disseminated in a variety of formats to school counselors, teachers, parents, students, and organizations engaged in providing assistance and support to students seeking to enroll in college. With one employee and cost sharing among the HBCUs, this information could be disseminated to a wider audience through something inexpensive such as a social media campaign.

Second, HBCUs should, as a collective, create a free online educational module that would be available to school counselors for professional development credit focused on HBCUs and their strengths. Imagine if 100 or 1000 school counselors enrolled in such a free course. Imagine if HCBU personnel could provide online open chat sessions while the course is running. Imagine if graduate credits could be extended too. This would create incentive for college counselors to learn about and promote HBCUs.

Improving college counseling for first-generation, low-income students is important but, standing alone, it is not enough to raise the profile of HBCUs. The latter effort needs a more concerted effort, one that can have wide reach and broad appeal. To that end, we need a coordinated social media campaign. Stay tuned for the final blog of this series where we’ll address this very topic!

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.

College Scorecard Needs Improvement in Promoting HBCUs

Part 2 of a 4 Part Blog Series

In contrast to the college guidebooks addressed in the first blog in this series, the federal government’s recently revised College Scorecard* is designed to provide key, unbiased data to inform prospective college students about colleges and how to evaluate them based on a myriad of measures. This data is certainly valuable. Its interest, though, is likely better suited for researchers whereas it has the potential to mislead college hopefuls. Perhaps not surprising, the Scorecard and its torrent of data do not, in the views of many, live up to its promise generally nor with respect to HBCUs in particular.

The Scorecard has been the subject of considerable and extensive criticism. For example, some have criticized its heightened focus on salaries post degree receipt. Others have questioned the datasets used to create the Scorecard, noting that key information is missing or was not collected. The absence of data on race and ethnicity has been noted as well. These are all valid criticisms. But what is particularly problematic for us is the Scorecard’s overemphasis on financial costs, post-graduation earnings, and graduation rates without regard to other metrics that are insufficiently measured by data, such as unique academic programs or campus initiatives. These factors all lead the Scorecard to indirectly discount or omit HBCUs.

Here’s how it works:

When students or other users first see the Scorecard’s homepage, they are greeted with messages that claim: “On average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates” and “You could be eligible for up to $5,775 for free in Pell grants to help pay for college. No repayment needed!” Then, as if that focus were not clear enough, the site highlights specific institutions with high graduation rates and low costs.

Is that how we are meant to measure college fit? If so, it’s a big problem: we know that certain types of professions have lower income levels on average, and we also know that even controlling for other key variables, being a minority and first-generation student affects earnings, in part due to the difficulty of landing a first job without connections.

Given that the Scorecard’s privileged metrics rely on reductive data, there is not a single HBCU on any of the four lists on the College Scorecard homepage. Even assuming the accuracy of those lists with regard to data, it is alarming that

Consider this example used by the Scorecard on its homepage. On the list of two- year colleges with high salaries post-graduation, SUNY Westchester Community College in Valhalla NY is listed (and thus touted). The average earnings figure of its graduates is, to be sure, high: $37,400. But, consider the average graduation rate (ignoring for a moment how that is calculated): 13%. Yes—only 13% according to the Scorecard and yet the earnings data are so important that this institution is featured prominently on the Scorecard’s homepage. Several of the other lists are composed primarily of elite, highly selective colleges.

Beyond the issue of what the Scorecard chooses to prioritize, we are even more concerned about. It would not have been all that difficult to create an added dropdown window that referenced special features of a particular institution. For starters, one could reference key clubs and organizations (whether there was Greek life), internships and work study opportunities, advising services, and notable facilities like state-of the art computer labs, mock stock trading floors, or simulation laboratories. For example, Xavier University of Louisiana offers the Institute for Black Catholic Studies; this information would be extremely useful to prospective students passionate about Black Catholic studies but struggling to find a program. By knowing a school’s unique features, students would be better able to discover schools of interest to them.

Perhaps the most flagrant foul with respect to the Scorecard, however, rests with the difficulty of using its “Advanced Search” option to filter and search for schools. Unless one knew the name of a particular HBCU, for example, it would take three different steps to get a list of HBCUs, including knowing to go to “Advanced Search.” We know that low-income, first generation students are unfamiliar with the college options available to them. These students are less likely to know how or where to start looking for options beyond those that are automatically featured on the site. Instead of having options buried or accessible only by muddling through filters, our goal should be to more visibly promote institutions that would be a good fit for students.

As noted in the first blog and as evidenced here, improvement in enrollment at HBCUs requires some changes to information garnered and then released to the public. The College Scorecard could, but does not, inform decision-making sufficiently for the very students who would benefit from this information. In the next blog, we look at a different way of how information is distributed: from school counselors to students. This “internal focus” creates an opportunity for more personalized counseling.

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.

Helping HBCUs Get the Attention and Attendance They Deserve

Part 1 of a 4 Part Blog Series

The facts are indisputable: enrollment is an important matter for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as these institutions must compete with Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and other institutions for students.* As such, HBCUs need to make their values, strengths, and rich history both visible and compelling to prospective students, particularly new high school graduates. This blog post is the first in a four-part series that focuses on strategies to improve enrollment at HBCUs.

While there are many issues confronting institutions of higher education, enrollment is key to a college or university’s success because, absent a massive endowment, having fewer students creates greater fiscal constraints for an institution. Short term, this can mean cuts in personnel, lack of programmatic resources, absence of resources to innovate, receipt of funds from dubitable arrangements like guarantee games, and general diminution of a sense of well-being. Declining enrollments can also limit access to capital near and far term. This can lead to a lessening of improvements such as deferred maintenance and weak technology infrastructure for both classroom use and institutional operations.

There is no simple answer for increasing enrollment. Surely, there are “mega” solutions that call for massive infusions of cash, whether from private sources or the government. Grants from foundations are options and so are active supports at the local, state, and national levels. It is our view, however, that these approaches—while worthy—will take time and may not occur quickly enough to showcase the value of HBCUs and get them the resources they need before some fail and others flounder miserably.

The suggestions in this blog series benefit from being relative low cost and achievable over a short timeframe. But, the proposed strategies need HBCUs to work together as a collective to advocate for improved treatment and championing of these suggestions to raise the profile of their institutions. HBCUs need to own these initiatives. They need to put pressure on the relevant outsiders.

Beyond growing enrollment, there is a larger purpose with respect to all of our suggestions: the importance of fit. Many, although assuredly not all, HBCUs serve first-generation, low-income, and minority students well. While their retention and graduation rates may lag behind other institutions, HBCUs have a long and often storied history of serving vulnerable populations and enabling a good fit for a student. They can offer a supportive learning environment where students do not feel like a fish out of water and where academic success is both expected and rewarded.

That said, even finding a well-fitted college turns out to be far from easy for many students, who turn to resources like college guidebooks to guide their decisions—and this is the first area that can be changed to improve enrollment at HBCUs.

Pesky College Guidebooks

College guidebooks, available in high schools, libraries, and for individual purchase, aim to provide prospective college students with an array of accurate information about institutions they may be interested in attending. Two of the most ubiquitous guides are The Princeton Review and Fiske Guide to Colleges. To be sure, no guidebook—regardless of its quality—is sufficient to enable a student to make an informed decision where he or she will succeed academically or personally. However, these guides remain a commonly used resource.

Still, the two guides are riddled with flaws as they relate to HBCUs. Here are four of the most notable issues that can have an impact on their readers’ decision-making: (1) unexplained differences in lengths of entries that silently signal which institutions have more to offer than others; (2) absence of storytelling with respect to key positive aspects of a particular college, suggesting by negative implication that it is lacking in “merit” or “acclaim”; (3) lack of labeling institutions in ways that would identify listed colleges as HBCUs with pride; and (4) lack of clarity as to how the “best” colleges are identified, leaving little recourse for the startling absence of many HBCUs on the lists.

Consider these concrete examples:

In a recent edition of The Princeton Review, the length of entries for Xavier University (Louisiana; HBCU), Brown University (Providence; PWI), and Howard University (Washington, DC; HBCU) are varied without explanation, and in a guidebook, length of entry can be a surrogate for quality. The Brown University entry had almost two complete columns, which also appears to be the longest entry in the book. However, while Howard University had the same number of subsections Brown in terms of content categories, its entry was barely one column. Xavier was barely one column too. It is true that if every entry were as long as Brown’s, the length of the guide would be unmanageable. To be fair to all institutions, however, there needs to be greater standardization in entry length, shortening entries like Brown’s that are given too much length and lengthening entries for places like HBCUs that have been historically glossed over.

The recent edition of Fiske Guide to Colleges identified only 4 HBCUs out of the 300 plus colleges described, leading one to assume other HBCUs are not even worthy of mention. Similarly, length of entry is used to signal quality. In this guide, Howard and Xavier, both HBCUs, each have 2 pages versus the length of profiles for some Ivy League schools (Harvard has 4 pages and Brown has 3.5 pages).

The absence of the use of the category “HBCU” has implications as well. In The Princeton Review, the only indication that institutions have a large minority population was the identification of percentages. Moreover, The Fiske Guide to Colleges used euphemisms like “the Wellesley of the black world” with respect to Spelman, for example, instead of the more accurate—and federally recognized—language of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

There needs to be real pressure put on these two college guides and others to treat HBCUs more equitably and in ways that showcase their value on a myriad of levels. This begins by recognizing the guides’ existing deficiencies, something that has not been done before to our knowledge.

Guidebooks are but one avenue students can pursue to identify colleges they may be interested in attending and where they can achieve success. As reflected here, The Princeton Review and Fiske Guide to Colleges fall short in their treatment of HBCUs. Unfortunately, these are not the only enrollment hurdles challenging students interested in HBCUs. The next blog in this series focuses on the deep flaws of the College Scorecard recently developed by the Department of Education, particularly in its treatment of HBCUs—stay tuned!

* There is evidence that enrollment is rising at HBCUs for reasons yet to be fully understood.  That rise notwithstanding, this blog series speaks to the enrollment needs/concerns of many of the HBCUs in our nation.

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.


American Baptist College Joins Other HBCUs Experiencing Discrimination from Anti-LGBTQ Groups


Robert K. Hoggard

In a National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC) meeting over the past summer, the convention talked about its ten new appointees to the American Baptist College board of trustees, citing a charter document which dates back to the founding of “American Baptist Theological Seminary”—now known as American Baptist College. During the convention, NBC developed plans to appoint members to the college’s board of trustees for suspect political and religious reasons—specifically its anti-LGBTQ agenda—even though it does not support the college financially.

It is important to note that American Baptist College already has a working board that oversees a thriving liberal arts college that has seen much growth under the direction of Forrest E. Harris Sr., who is also an associate professor and Director of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on the African-American Church at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

It is also important to note that, until now, NBC has not had an issue with the trajectory of the college under the leadership of former president Rev. Julius Scruggs. In fact, Scruggs, who is an alum of American Baptist College, is also a major donor to the college.

However, NBC has experienced a tumultuous leadership change into hands that I describe as homophobic, sexist, and anti-community uplift. NBC’s new president, Rev. Jerry Young, has led a crusade against American Baptist College in the midst of one of its most healthiest times. He has led a crusade against the college for one reason: Rev. Randy Vaughn.

Rev. Randy Vaughn, a failed former presidential candidate of NBC, led a hate group of pastors called the “National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors” against President Harris because he invited Bishop Yvette Flunder, a woman who happens to be a lesbian, to be a guest speaker at the college. They said in a March 5th press release: “For a Baptist college president to invite a lesbian bishop legally married to a woman to be a guest speaker and worship leader on a Baptist college campus is irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical and certainly displeasing to God.”

I have questions about their theology, which I unpack in my article at HBCU Buzz: “An Open Letter to Rev. Randy Vaughn About American Baptist College.” But more importantly, I am concerned that the pastors asked the president of a college which receives Title IX funding to discriminate against LGBTQ persons.

The new chapter of this fight against American Baptist College is that NBC will attempt to appoint new board members with the vision of changing the school to a discriminatory school against LGBTQ persons. Because of such, we need to call on the U.S. Department of Education to get involved in NBC’s chapter of war against a thriving HBCU.

NBC is a religious organization that has said nothing in a period of social unrest in support of discriminated individuals or groups. For example, They have not spoke with righteous indignation against police violence in a #BlackLivesMatter era.

According to Jennifer G. Hickey’s article, “Race Gap: Blacks Fall Further Behind Under Obama,” since Obama has been president, the African-American median income has fallen by 10.9 percent to $33,500, compared to only a 3.6 percent drop to $58,000 for Whites. NBC has said nothing about this disparity nor have they considered supporting the nationwide fast-food workers movement called “The Fight for $15.”

Lastly, NBC has never had a woman president. This speaks to why they have never spoken about women’s right issues like eliminating the wage gap between men and women.

NBC has a history of being absent on issues that African-American people are facing across the country. This is why seminary enrollment across the country is down and why many people are leaving African-American churches. In the case of American Baptist College, we are seeing another board governance issue because of anti-LGBTQ pastors.

Our HBCUs deserve better than this. They deserve alumni, friends, and partners giving money so that HBCUs are healthy. They do not deserve to be discriminated against by religious organizations that do not have the best interests of them or their students in mind.

Robert K. Hoggard, M.A. is a graduate of American Baptist College and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He has written more than 100 articles on HBCUs at HBCU Buzz Inc. and is closely watching the life of HBCUs in a period of social unrest and injustice against African-American people.

Examining the Transformative Role of Faculty at HBCUs


Pamela Petrease Felder

When I was a graduate student, one of my peers asked me if I would ever return to an Historical Black College or University (HBCU) as a faculty member. Given my research interests on the role HBCUs play in supporting historically marginalized students in their transition to doctoral studies, and being an HBCU alumnus myself, without hesitation I remember thinking, “Of course I would.” I recall his look of disbelief. After all, we were in graduate school pursuing “elite” graduate degrees—why would we want to work at institutions that face so many challenges?

I wasn’t puzzled by his response as I knew why this sentiment existed. That is, graduate school is a huge personal and financial investment and the idea of making a professional commitment to institutions that have been known to struggle is unrealistic for some graduate students. However, HBCUs have a history of resilience and have made great contributions to higher education. When thinking about institutional transformation, I often wonder about the kind of professional commitment necessary to support institutions that have had to accomplish more with less to support historically marginalized student populations. Specifically, in what ways do faculty members contribute to the future success of HBCUs?

Fast-forward several years, and in 2014, I returned to my undergraduate alma mater, The University of Maryland Eastern-Shore, as a faculty member in an HBCU graduate program. After a grueling job search, looking to find a home where my teaching and research interests would be well aligned with the institution’s mission, I was delighted to return to the very place where my postsecondary educational journey began. I returned with high hopes to do what I could to make my institution a better place—to give back to it what it had given to me, especially through my research in the area of doctoral education.

However, I couldn’t help thinking about my previous conversation with my peer regarding whether I would consider returning to an HBCU as a faculty member. To reflect in deeper analysis about my return and contribution, I participated in several conversations with my faculty colleagues to get a sense of their perspectives regarding what affects their ability to transform the future success of HBCUs. Many of the conversations related to the findings of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institution’s report titled, The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including: workload, salaries, and the lack of shared governance.


HBCU faculty work extremely hard to support student success in ways that are not typically measured or quantified. I’ve witnessed my colleagues spend tremendous amounts of time outside of scheduled office hours and classroom time mentoring students. This mentoring often consists of sharing important life lessons and teaching students how to manage life challenges that greatly influence their lives and degree completion. Since this kind of work is essential to the academic success of students, it’s important to provide faculty support and recognition to build awareness of this activity. Also, providing resources that contribute to the process of mentoring would allow faculty to share this expertise in more meaningful ways. This might consist of formalized collaborative opportunities across departments, schools, and institutions where faculty can share mentoring practices. For example, mentorship practices that addresses the institution’s function to support racial and cultural awareness could serve to promote institutional diversity initiatives.


There are significant national average salary disparities for HBCU faculty. While HBCUs do their best to secure financial resources in order to increase faculty salaries, thereby directly addressing this inequity, other areas of compensation should be examined to minimize this gap. For instance, some HBCU faculty members could receive course releases for their mentoring efforts. Also, HBCU faculty members with twelve-month contracts could receive nine-month contracts to allow for increased research productivity through grant and publication writing during the summer months.

Shared Governance

HBCU faculty have a lot to say about the governance of their institutions. However, conversations about governance are minimized to the margins of the governing process. Faculty discussions about governance are often powerful and transformational, but the opportunity to share these perspectives often don’t exist in ways that directly shape institutional leadership. It’s important to understand why opportunities for faculty engagement are not part of the governance process. This would help lead to identifying strategies that strengthen the participation of HBCU faculty in ways that broaden their potential for involvement in institutional decision-making.

In conclusion, what I learned about my return to an HBCU and from conversations with my colleagues is that it’s critically important to understand the relevance of faculty leadership to the future success of HBCUs. This involves understanding the influence of faculty participation on the mission and culture of HBCUs and the ways this influence can be supported to develop avenues for future success. There is much exploration to be done to uncover areas for innovation in this area and further research is necessary.

An infusion of resources is needed to support these faculty members’ mentoring, teaching, research efforts, and professional development.

This support must address HBCU faculty experiences and the ways they contribute to these institutions beyond what we’ve known them to do (doing more with less). Support must help HBCU faculty members’ efforts to strive towards their greater potential for transformation in higher education. Honoring the voices of HBCU faculty is important for increasing awareness about the culture and vitality of HBCUs.

Dr. Pamela Petrease Felder is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore (UMES) and an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

HBCU Athletics Demonstrate Black Excellence


Louis Bolling

As a former Morgan State University student-athlete, I understand the power and relevance of athletic programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). As a journalist with the nation’s oldest African-American newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune, I understand and respect the power of media’s ability to tell stories to the masses.

Collegiate athletic programs are a vital component of the higher education system and college experience for a variety of reasons. However, the rich history, traditions, and achievements of people of color in HBCU athletics—their successes and historical relevance—often go untold.

Forty-five years ago, Howard University’s Men’s Soccer program made history while embodying all of the positive characteristics of collegiate athletics, even espousing the spirit of Olympism: blending sport with education and culture.

In 1971, led by Head Coach Lincoln ‘Tiger’ Phillips, Howard’s Men’s Soccer team won the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Championship. The team was stripped of the title only to win it three years later in 1974. ESPN’s new platform, The Undefeated, recently captured the story through a short film, Redemption Song.

“The premiere [of Redemption Song] reawakened emotions that had been buried for decades,” said the film’s producer, Mark W. Wright. “But while it’s great to get this story out to the world, what comes from it is what matters. Awareness is good, but awareness fades. We want to learn lessons. We want to right wrongs. We want to know our history to learn from it,” exclaimed Wright.

Formerly a Director of Content & Events for ESPN Events in Charlotte, a position he held for almost 10 years, Wright recently joined the staff of The Undefeated to develop content around HBCUs.

Redemption Song is as personal to me as any story I’ve ever worked on in my career. For starters, it’s about soccer—the game I grew up playing and loving in Jamaica. It’s about my alum mater, Howard University. And, it’s about my former soccer coach, Ian Bain, who is more than a coach but a mentor and father figure. Journalistically, Redemption Song stands on its own merits, having all of the elements that make for a good story.”

Phillips, Howard’s legendary men’s soccer coach, called his program’s trials “a setback” that were “a set up for a comeback.”

“Our team’s situation was taking place during the rise of black consciousness,” said Phillips, who also founded the Black Soccer Coaches Association.

Recently named a 2016 National Association of Black Journalists Pioneer Award recipient, Phillips stated “we wanted to be the best at a sport dominated by white people in this country. Our team was more than an athletic program; it became an extension of the civil rights movement in a way only sports can.”

Phillips’ teams consisted of American and international student-athletes from countries in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. This was a unique dynamic in itself, placing Howard at the forefront of recruiting international student-athletes, which is even more impressive when taking into account that the teams’ members maintained collective grade point averages over 3.0.

With plans to build original content and investigative journalism related to Spike Lee Lil’ Joints documentary shorts, Redemption Song presents a myriad of issues for The Undefeated to explore and for HBCU athletic supporters and preservationists to take action on.

Reinstating and conferring the 1971 Howard University Men’s Soccer team as NCAA Champions, inducting Coach Phillips into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, and hiring more soccer coaches and athletic administrators of color at higher education institutions are a few of the topics that deserve further examination and advocacy.

Former Howard University student-athlete and renaissance man, Rock Newman, passionately stated “This wasn’t just about a soccer championship. This was about Black excellence.”

To watch Redemption Song, visit https://theundefeated.com/videos/redemption-song.

Louis Bolling serves the University of Pennsylvania community as an Interfaith Fellow to the Athletics & Recreation Community with the Office of the Chaplain. He holds a BS in Physical Education with a concentration in Sports Administration from Morgan State University. He is a freelance writer with The Philadelphia Tribune and Huffington Post. His interests include athletic administration at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sport for development and peace, Olympism, university-assisted community schools and community-based sports issues. 

When HSIs Aren’t an Option, Some Hispanic Students Are Choosing to Attend HBCUs over PWIs—Here’s Why


Heather J. Mathers

As the Hispanic population continues to grow at exponential rates in the United States, higher education institutions are seeing increasing numbers of Hispanic students walking through their doors. As of 2012, Hispanics have displaced African Americans as the largest minority population and have become the largest minority group on college campuses. Although many Hispanic students choose to attend one of the over 400 designated Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), there are oftentimes geographical, financial, or other limitations that may affect their ability to enroll in these colleges and universities. The reality is that the majority of Hispanic students find themselves in educational settings where they are the minority, and their reasons for choosing to attend one type of institution over another is relevant for understanding today’s Hispanic college student.

In 15 interviews conducted at three different public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic students reflected on their reasons for choosing their respective institutions over other possible alternatives, including Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Pseudonyms have been used to protect participant privacy.

Manny, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, stated, “The fact that it’s an HBCU made me think that they actually appreciated people who are from different areas. There is also a Multicultural Center, which made me think it was a diverse university compared to others.”

Another student, Freddie, a senior majoring in criminal justice and psychology, found the faculty and staff at his HBCU to be more involved than what his peers’ experienced at PWIs. He stated, “I looked into professors and the criminal justice department as well as psychology, and I was able to speak with them during orientation, and they actually seemed like they cared about the student. And it wasn’t even like a one-time thing, because after we exchanged contact information, email and everything, it would still be the same level of care and everything. So based off of my other friends that went to traditionally White institutions, most of my friends said they just see them like another student. They did not take the time to speak with them or meet with them. So that was definitely a big reason why I attended a HBCU.”

Additionally, many students experienced a strong sense of belonging and a sense of campus community at their respective HBCUs. Tabitha, a senior majoring in psychology, commented that she applied to multiple institutions, but once she got to her HBCU, she felt “a good family vibe from the college,” which solidified her decision to attend.

Juan, a senior majoring in criminal justice, discussed how the increased diversity on campus has resulted in a more positive experience for him. He commented, “It is a great university; it is a great place to be. I am really comfortable. There are more Latinos and it is getting more diverse, which kind of in a way I do like even though some African American students wouldn’t want that. But I do like it, because it is still going to be a HBCU school, but I just like it how the university is bringing a lot more different races to the school.”

Other participants reflected on how they have grown as individuals at their respective HBCUs because of their ability to learn about other races through culturally enriched study and a historically-driven campus community.

Jennifer, a senior majoring in sociology, stated, “I feel like because there are predominantly Black students [on campus] that I have gained a lot of confidence when it comes to understanding who I am and my background and just relating to other students. I can relate to a lot of other students even though we are not from the same area and we might not have culturally the same background.”

The unfortunate reality is that many PWIs are rarely diverse, except when located in urban settings. Conversely, research suggests that HBCUs are the most integrated and diverse higher education institutions that currently exist. They are more nurturing and inclusive than other educational settings, and the resources that are unique to HBCUs could be beneficial for other minority populations, specifically Hispanics, who encounter similar socioeconomic and educational struggles as their African American peers.

As many HBCUs are working towards increasing diversity on campus, the inclusion of their growing Hispanic population cannot be ignored. Examining why these individuals choose to attend HBCUs allows for a greater understanding of how to recruit, retain, and serve this growing demographic to further enrich diversity efforts in higher education nationwide.

Heather J. Mathers holds a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education from Cardinal Stritch University. Her research interests include the Hispanic student population, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, ethnic identity development, multiculturalism, diversity in higher education, and social justice issues.