As described in part one of The continued importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), over time these schools developed the reputation for being party schools. Nevertheless significant learning and scholarship take place at these institutions.
Two of the greatest benefits of attending Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) were the small class sizes and mentoring from the faculty; and in my case the faculty in the natural sciences department. The faculty had a genuine interest in our success. They were very hard on us at times simply because they wanted to bring out our best. A debt of gratitude will always be owed to the faculty at JCSU.
Major colleges and universities are known for having classes containing hundreds of students. Underprepared, unfocused and immature undergraduates, particularly freshmen can get lost in such classes and flunk out within the first year. As described in Inside American Education by Thomas Sowell, teaching assistants teach many of these classes and not the tenured professors themselves.
The JCSU DC Alumni Chapter President Robert Ridley reflected, “I often tell the story that my department head called my mother in February of my last semester to inform her that I was ‘messing up’ and I was not going to graduate if I did not pull it together.”
In America Behind the Color Line, Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. discusses the Achievement Gap, and the fact that even within the black community there is a distinct middle class and a static underclass.
HBCUs have the potential to offer pathways towards upward mobility for students who may not immediately have access to Harvard, Yale, UNC-Chapel Hill or Stanford University. My road to the University of Michigan for example originated from JCSU. The same was true for President Ridley’s road the University of Alabama.
As with any school, students and parents must perform their due diligence before committing to a particular institution. What’s also true is that the African American race has within itself become very diverse in terms of values, political views and socioeconomic background. For that reason an HBCU is not necessarily for everyone, and each prospective student should go to a school environment where he or she will feel most comfortable. Furthermore students who attend HBCUs must eventually go back into society and learn to interact with other ethnic groups.
Yes HBCUs are important in this era of the Obama presidency. They continue to play an important role in producing professionals for the country’s work force and provide access to higher education to students who might not otherwise have it.
President Ridley finally stated that, “I personally feel HBCU’s greatest strength is their willingness to help everyone who walks through their doors. There are countless stories from HBCU graduates who speak about not being able to afford college, but the school found a way for them to stay to complete their education. There are also stories of teachers exposing students to the possibility of attending graduate school who may not have otherwise considered it.”