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Governance and the Future of Black Colleges

Urban Marketing Group Staff

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For years, historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, as they are commonly known, have occupied a special space in the pantheon of American higher education. Founded during a period of hostile, entrenched and legally enforced segregation, these extraordinary institutions have exceeded expectations in unforeseen ways. From the start, black colleges depended upon white philanthropy and later state government for financial support. They enjoyed a pure monopoly on African-American students and faculty members. And almost single-handedly, they created the nation’s black middle class, comprising teachers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs.

Today, black colleges are iconic institutions, considerably more than centers of higher learning. Whether rural or urban, public or independent, they are repositories of history, art, culture and politics. Their campuses feature buildings with distinctive architecture housing priceless works by African-American artists, muralists, writers, composers and sculptors. Their libraries contain volumes of books, journals, monographs and myriad products of research by African-American scholars. Every black college has a story to tell: Hampton University’s Emancipation Oak; the monument to the United States Colored Troops who founded Lincoln University in Missouri; Jubilee Hall at Fisk University, named in honor of its renowned choral group that traveled the world raising money to support the school. The list goes on.

Yet desegregation of higher education has devastated black colleges. About 90 percent of African-American students are enrolled in majority colleges and universities. As result, notwithstanding their historic significance and their past and current contributions to higher education and American society, many black colleges are imperiled — and have been for quite some time. In fact, whether they care to admit it or not, for a variety of reasons, some beyond their control, many HBCUs are in a death spiral and may not be salvageable.

Now is the time for candor and self-assessment. Many people, even ardent HBCU supporters, including the author, find it difficult to face the hard truth: some HBCUs need to seriously explore options that include pruning or culling. And for others, it may be time for an exit strategy that could include merging or closing.

A Quest for Sustainability

In 1986, Hugh Gloster, then president of Morehouse College offered this sobering assessment: “History has shown that the private black college experience a very slow death … you will have an increasing number of weak private colleges lose accreditation, and they will lose enrollment, and then they will lose financial stability. Now, whether they will die is another question.”

Read full story at Inside Higher Ed

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