Advancing HBCU Opportunities: National Black Greek Organizations


Jessica Elmore

I have three suggestions for HBCU advancement departments, national alumni associations and foundations. But first, a little background:

Recently an email was sent out to the membership of my sorority from the national president. The message was about giving back to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. has always had a focus on giving back and supporting HBCUs, but this message was urging all of us to support now because of the financial challenges that some HBCUs are experiencing like budget cuts, reduced government funding and even declining enrollments. As an HBCU graduate and an educational advancement professional, I was happy to see this message. I was also thinking about how HBCUs and their affiliates (national alumni associations and foundations) need to capitalize on face-to-face action opportunities that Black Greek organizations have available.

In 2015, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. hosted their national convention in Houston, Texas. During the national convention, time was set aside for individual chapters to host meetups. I decided to participate in my birth chapter’s meetup, Delta Iota chapter in Grambling State University. Months before the national convention, alumni of the Delta Iota chapter were communicating about meeting up in Houston. The meetup was held at an alumnae’s home and it quickly filled, with over 60 women laughing, hugging and sharing stories about their time at Grambling. This gathering was a family reunion and Grambling and Delta was our connection.

During the meetup two major themes were communicated: stay financially active in Delta Sigma Theta (pay your dues) and give back to Grambling State University. The organizers of the meetup shared that they wanted the alumnae members of the chapter to raise $100,000 by Delta Iota’s 70th chapter anniversary. The opportunity to raise money is a wonderful way to help our alma mater, but they will need an advancement professional to help them reach this goal. It’s 2016 and I have not heard about the $100,000 goal. I share this example of the $100,000 goal because when HBCU advancement professionals are not in these spaces great opportunities can be missed.

As promised at the beginning of this post, I have three suggestions for HBCU advancement departments, national alumni associations and foundations:

  1. Stop hosting your own alumni conventions and have alumni association and foundation leaders travel to various national conventions of Black sororities and fraternities and set up as a vendor. Set up a booth to raise money for your institution and tell your story about the wonderful impact your institution is having. Be equipped to collect donations and collect information on individuals that you can engage as a major prospect and be sure to follow up with everyone.
  2. Be cognizant of the national events hosted by the various Black Greek organizations and reach out to your alumni who are members of the organization. Find out if there is an event or activity hosted by your alumni and if you can attend or send information to share.
  3. Have the local HBCU chapter president and other HBCU representatives attend the public events and bring greetings and network.

Many individuals and organizations have the desire to financially support HBCUs, but it will only be the action of people giving that will help our HBCUs. We have to seize the “now” if we want the desire of people to give to turn it the action of giving.

Jessica Elmore is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Kansas State University and an assistant director of multicultural Programs at the K-State Alumni Association. She is responsible for the creation and implementation of programs and activities that include engaging multicultural and international students and alumni.

Why PWI Grads of Color Should Consider Supporting MSIs


Briana O’Neal

It’s giving season again, which means my voicemail and inbox are full of requests for donations to one organization or another. Among the requests I usually receive this time of year is one from my alma mater. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and I loved every minute of it. I credit UNC for giving me some of my most memorable experiences and facilitating much of my personal and professional growth; my heart will always bleed Carolina blue. That being said, over time I have come to recognize my privilege in that space. I was part of the roughly 10% of the student population that identified as Black at a predominately white institution (PWI) where over two-thirds of the student body was in the top 10% of their high school class and the average admitted student has an SAT composite score of over 1300. I was privileged enough to have the support and resources I needed growing up to fit that profile, but it is important to recognize that a lot of students who look like me don’t. That is why this giving season not only did I make an alumni donation to UNC, but I also supported the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions’ Annual Giving Campaign.

To be a member of a marginalized group in this country is to be constantly taxed mentally and emotionally. With all the increased media coverage of incidents of police brutality, the perpetuation of rape culture, the presidential election, etc., this year has been particularly rough for me. Marginalized groups are constantly at war with systems of oppression, but we remain unmoved in our resolve to fight back. I see examples of this every day, from student protests on campus to the resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and I am inspired to keep pushing back against gross abuses of power and privilege.

This year, I had to ask myself how I can be inspired by protests across the country, support the Black Lives Matter movement and condemn the systemic oppression that targets Black and brown bodies, all the while planning to give to my PWI without considering how that same system of oppression plays out in the classroom? We know that public K12 education doesn’t always give students of color a fair shake—we are tracked, disproportionately disciplined, and denied resources. All of these practices conspire to deny us equal preparation and place highly selective institutions safely out of our reach.

If I am going to give, I want to make sure I am supporting those who need it the most and as a first-generation college student who believes in equity and access, I can’t ignore the facts: MSIs are doing it better. They are bastions of college access, enrolling a disproportionate number of low income and first generation college students of color. Over 60% of all Hispanic students in higher education attend Hispanic Serving Institutions. Three-quarters of all low-income Asian American or Pacific Islander students in higher education study at an AANAPISI. Not only do Tribal Colleges educate over 30,000 students in rural areas, they also are highly concerned with preserving and supporting tribal culture. Over 75% of all students who attend HBCUs are Pell Grant eligible. Even though they account for only 3% of all institutions in the US, HBCUs serve 11% of all Black students in higher education and are responsible for providing one fifth of bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students.

Take a moment to let those numbers sink in and realize just how important these institutions are when it comes to caring for our communities. While PWIs are busy making five- and ten-year plans to create inclusive environments and increase their diversity by a few percentage points, MSIs have been opening doors, cultivating excellence and producing leaders. If you are a PWI grad of color like me, there is no shame in giving back to an institution that gave to you, but let’s also put our money where our mouths are and fight back against education inequalities this season.

This past year, I had the pleasure and privilege of working as a graduate research assistant at the Penn Center for MSIs (CMSI). During my time there, I had the chance to meet MSI presidents, faculty and students from across the country and get involved in research that has really helped me understand the importance and value of these institutions. I can attest first-hand to all the wonderful work that CMSI does to support these institutions—from providing professional development to MSI faculty members to encouraging MSI students to pursue graduate degrees to creating partnerships that provide funding to send MSI students abroad. Even though I am not there this year to give my time to supporting these wonderful programs, I did make sure to donate.

My giving to my alma mater this year was an act of love and gratitude. My giving to CMSI was a political act. It was a move in direct opposition to the narrative that MSIs are inferior institutions- that anything designed by or for people of color is somehow second-class. The media is rife with stories about how some MSIs are failing institutions, struggling with graduation rates and poor money management. They question their relevancy, suggest that there is minimal return on investment in these institutions, and want to merge them with PWIs.

What they don’t tell us is that many MSIs have been doing more with less. They are building up communities of color, accepting and educating students with a range of abilities and preparedness, meeting them where they are and providing them with a college level education—all with fewer resources. For example, in some states, like North Carolina, flagship institutions have received twice as much in state funding per student as HBCUs. Many state funding formulas were designed to give more money to “institutions where the majority of students who attend are overrepresented in public higher education.”

I could spend hours explaining all the reasons why this is a real shame, but instead I will challenge you to learn more about the value of MSIs and their impact on communities of color. Maybe you have a sibling or parent who attended one. Or maybe, like me, you are the first in your family to even go to college and you know very little about different institutional types. The CMSI website is full of great resources and keeps a running list of MSIs. Learn a little bit more about an MSI near you, or an organization like CMSI that advocates for them, and consider giving this season.

Briana O’Neal holds an M.S.Ed in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania and currently works at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her interests include underrepresented students in higher education, minority serving institutions, and transfer pathways for community college students. She is a former research assistant at the Penn Center for MSIs.

Examining Characteristics of Effective Leadership at Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Leadership is essential for the survival of any organization. Some have argued that for many historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), leadership, particularly effective leadership, is one salient aspect that not only warrants greater attention, but that is also one fundamental element missing from individuals charged with leading these institutions. For example, HBCU researchers often cite that low enrollment, fiscal mismanagement, and poor leadership are some of the critical factors that weaken the sustainability of HBCUs and precipitate their closures. Research shows that some of the contributing factors to the poor leadership of HBCU leaders are recycling ineffective presidents, presidents being micromanaged by the governing boards, presidents with a lack of fundraising experience, and presidents with a dearth of experience running large, complex higher education institutions.

Given the critical link between effective leadership and the success of HBCUs, some in the higher education community have focused on increasing the capacity of institutional leaders at HBCUs to be more effective in their roles. For example, the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania has produced a report that contextualizes the critical skills that effective leaders of HBCUs need in the 21st Century to be forward-thinking institutional stewards. Moreover, Lincoln University of Missouri has started a Master’s program that is designed to prepare students seeking careers in student affairs and leadership positions at HBCUs. Along the same lines, Howard University has announced a PhD program in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies to prepare leaders and policy analysts to work at Minority Serving Institutions generally and HBCUs specifically.

In the spirit of helping HBCU leaders increase their leadership efficacy, we conducted a study with 21 HBCU stakeholders. Many of the individuals we interviewed were HBCU presidents that modeled effective leadership practices. Other participants included experts on HBCU leadership and exemplary executive leaders at HBCUs (i.e., provosts). While several themes emerged from this study, in this current article, we will discuss a few of the emerging themes and delineate areas where more research is needed.

One of the themes that emerged from the interviews was the need for HBCU leaders to be servant leaders. There was a consensus among the participants that some individuals seek to become HBCU presidents because they are more attracted to the glitz and glam, as opposed to being vested in working to understand the needs and concerns of HBCU students, faculty, staff and other external stakeholders. Participants shared that being a servant leader facilitates the development of a strong morale among HBCU students, faculty, and staff, which contributes significantly to the growth and sustainability of HBCUs. Participants underscored that servant leaders focus less on their own ambitions and make decisions with the heart of the institution in mind.

Another theme that we heard was that there are underperforming HBCU governing boards. Although various reasons were shared for this issue, there was a general consensus that there is a need for enhancing board training that prepares members for the specific challenges facing HBCUs. Participants emphasized that board members should bring technical expertise such as business acumen to the table. However, participants shared that it was important that board members set macro-level institutional policy and allow their institutions’ presidents to implement and manage the day-to-day issues. Board members must bring a love for the institution and its mission. Moreover, they must seek to preserve the greatest aspects of the institution while championing strategic changes that position their institution for the future.

One of the most surprising themes that we found was how important the role of the provost was to HBCUs. Many of our interviewers shared that it is one of the most underappreciated leadership positions within the academy. If functioning correctly, the person occupying that position takes on the day-to-day managing functions of the institution, which enables the president to fundraise and engage in the external relation activities that advance the institution. Additional research regarding this role is very much needed.

Interestingly, a lot of current research related to HBCU leadership has focused on the role and preparation of those serving as institutional presidents and on governing boards. However, we learned that there are other key stakeholders that wield a lot of influence and provide on the ground leadership at HBCUs. For instance, we know very little about the role of student governments in influencing institutional change, even though in recent years they have played an incredible role in speaking out in areas such as board governance. Ultimately, we learned that HBCU leadership is an under-researched, yet important topic that needs to continue to be investigated by individuals that have the best interest of these institutions at heart. We believe that higher education preparation programs like the new PhD program in Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies at Howard University can serve as the epicenter of that work.

Dr. Sydney Freeman, Jr. is associate professor of higher education and qualitative research at the University of Idaho. His research investigates the challenges facing higher education administration specifically, higher education as a field of study, the university presidency, and the leadership of Historically Black Colleges Universities. He is a proud product of a Historically Black Boarding Academy (high school), Pine Forge Academy, an HBCU, Oakwood University, and previously served as an administrator at Tuskegee University.

Dr. Robert T. Palmer is an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and Interim Department Chair at Howard University. His research examines issues of access, equity, retention, persistence, and the college experience of racial and ethnic minorities, particularly Black men as well as other student groups at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

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.