Healing Our Historically Black Colleges and Universities


A JBHE commentary by Stan Ashemore, president and founder of the HBCU Preservation Foundation in Greenville, South Carolina


“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”
— Hippocrates

Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) over the past few years have received lots of negative publicity and attention concerning their economic woes. I’m perplexed by the amount of negative comments overall and especially by folks who have attended a HBCU. It’s not that their thoughts and comments, based on their experiences, aren’t warranted. It’s just hard to imagine that we’ve forgotten that every one of us have benefited in some way from the HBCU legacy.

With this in mind why is it so hard to see the opportunity within this crisis? It’s an undeniable fact that Black colleges and universities define the motto “each one teach one.” So why are we not there for them now as they were for us so many years ago?

If I remember correctly, Black colleges and universities produced the courageous students that staged the sit-ins at lunch counters and bowling alleys to push back on racial segregation and inequality. It was these struggles that stimulated progress towards our social, political, and economic freedom. For those who have forgotten or are too young to remember these critical moments in America’s Black experience take a moment to visit these links: Jail No Bail, Orangeburg Massacre, and Justice for Greensboro. Within, these historical moments you’ll find the essence of why it’s important to fight for our HBCUs. Experts, intellectuals and the like have weighed in on the HBCU condition. In reading the online articles and comments I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, the HBCU condition is critical, but resolvable. I feel there’s been enough energy expelled analyzing, criticizing, and belly aching. Let’s just pull together and do something to help. By now I think we all understand HBCUs need our attention and financial support to survive. And we know no matter what’s said HBCUs produce thousands of graduates every year that become responsible citizens for our communities and corporate America. To me that’s the bottom line. Below, I’ve outline three strategies that are simple yet profound to kick start an evolutionary change in our efforts to secure progress for HBCUs. 1. Criticizing or Becoming an Agent for Progress When my sons began experiencing issues and expressing complaints during their primary school years my first reaction was to use explicative language and complain about the inadequacy of their school, just like current criticizers of HBCUs. But I soon realized that I needed to get my act together, take time to visit the school, and get an understanding of what was going on within their educational environment. When the teachers and counselors realized I was concerned, engaged, and active in my kids learning process, things began to change for the better. Is there a rule that prevents this same course of action at the collegiate level? Just because the administration and department heads have Ph.D.s doesn’t negate the open exchange of ideas. A genuine interest and understanding of each other’s goals and concerns will help to strengthen bonds and encourage open dialogue to the benefit of our young people. 2. Display a Genuine Interest in HBCU Needs The administrators and professors to which we entrust our kids have a tough job. Ask any department head if they have needs and I’ll guarantee they can deliver a list. There are understandable needs like instrument repair, sheet music, travel expenses, uniforms, sports equipment, technology and science lab equipment. Many programs are being watered down or cut because funding shortages prevent HBCUs from fulfilling basic needs resulting in our young people settling for less than the best educational experience. There’s also major needs like new classroom buildings, dormitories, science labs, and research centers. Whatever the need may be, however small or large, all we have to do is pick one and do what we can to help. 3. Harnessing Our Resources African-Americans have always displayed the courage and fortitude to overcome economic, social, and political hardships and we overcame despite opposition and criticism. We now have resources. We’re architects, astronauts, builders, teachers, musicians, chemists, and golf and tennis stars. We do it all. I can’t think of any reason why we can’t harness our resources to reboot our colleges and universities. And the beauty of it is, the resources to accomplish this transformation are well within our means. We don’t have to beg the government for what we already possess. We have the ability and financial resources to transform HBCUs into the best and most prestigious institutions in the country. It’s imperative that we understand what our HBCU’s need, identify specific projects and financial goals, post it within our own communities and make it happen. Imagine thousands of people contributing $5, $20 or $100 to reach these goals. The simplistic nature of this idea can be realized through “crowd funding,” a new and very effective way to augment traditional educational fundraising efforts. We no longer have to leave the future of our young people’s education to people who don’t care. Healing Black colleges and universities and restoring their prestige is possible. Let’s give it a try and see what our collective efforts can achieve.

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  1. As a proud graduate of HBCU Morris College (SC), I believe that HBCUs are relevant today just as they were during my tenure at Morris from 1982 – 1984. Often I tell my friends and colleagues that because of Morris College I was afforded numerous opportunities both educationally and professionally. Yes, all HBCU Alums have a responsibility to support their HBCUs both financially and to encourage high school students to attend our HBCUs. One suggestion is for HBCU Alums to start an Alumni Chapter in their City/State for their HBCU. I continue to believe in the UNCF motto that “A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste”.

  2. What do we do for the students who attended HBCUs and were NOT nurtured or allowed to develop their cultural awareness?

  3. Just like the modern Civil Rights movement, HBCUs are living off of the fumes of past glories. That is simply not enough. Unfortunately HBCUs are serving a demographic that simply can’t support many universities.

    Blacks score so much lower on standardized tests that many wouldn’t even qualify for ho hum state schools. Howard’s top 25% SAT score for its freshman class has dropped nearly 200 points in twenty years. Standardized tests are not everything of course but combined with GPA they serve as a good predictor of college completion. This is where HBCUs fall flat, their low graduation rates mean that students are probably not landing decent jobs to service their loans let alone donate to HBCUs.

    The top HBCUs like Howard need to aggressively target the higher testing Black students. I’d offer them generous scholarship packages. This will help boost the intellectual profile of its students and would help to attract more top non-black students. As it stands now most HBCUs have demographics that are lower than the most basic of state schools and aren’t even cheaper.

    • Ed, I think your comments validate the argument that HBCUs are important. Programs handed down by the Federal Government have been instrumental in causing our valuable grade school teachers to shift focus to satisfying governmental standards. But that’s another conversation. I feel that every young person deserves higher education regardless of SAT scores or financial background. There are debates now on the validity of SATs. Lets face it. HBCUs have been instrumental in changing the lives, for the better, of our young people who many may have written off. And as far as the “fumes”, I think that attention and support for will re-ignite a new legacy for HBCUs.

  4. HBCU

    I am an alumnus of Virginia State University (VSU). I am proud to be a Trojan. It’s legacy college for me since I have relatives who attend VSU. My children also attended HBCUs not by choice but because of academic and athletic opportunities that were afforded to them. So, I love VSU. I give my time, talent, and resource.

    As an administrator at VSU, I hire VSU students and provide them opportunities in the technology field in various jobs. We also encourage our students to get technology certifications, which are paid by our department. With these opportunities, we have had success stories with our students getting hired with salaries in the 50s. We also have hired some of these students in our department. They are truly grateful for the opportunity. So, in a nutshell, we have to give back to our students. In turn, I ask the student to pay it forward and mentor other students.

    • Kudos to you and your team Stephanie. Your example of “thinking forward” there at VSU is the kind of best practice all HBCUs can benefit from. Thank you for sharing your truly positive approach to nurturing your students. The public needs to hear HBCU success stories like yours more often. I hope those that are getting hired with salaries in the 50s are encouraged to send a little financial support back to “Big State” every year.

  5. We are NOT taking care of (BLACK BUSINESS) anymore. We seem to have (LOST) our will to FIGHT. We need to make an effort to talk to kids in the Urban communities about HBCU’s and get them enrolled in an HBCU.. No one is going to save our schools but, BLACK People themselves. Tell your Congressperson to PUT back the $80 Billion dollars back to HBCU’s. At the breakfast and the Dinner tables, church, the barber shop, the hair and nail salons and every where in between from infancy on, that part of their life journey is COLLEGE. That’s what our ancestors EXPECT from them, not jail.. We have
    to save our HBCU for kids to attend

    • Jackee, the first two sentences of your comment are so powerful, a serious eye opener and definitely have merit.. You’re on point. It does seem that we have lost the will to think and take action as a community to manage OUR business. A national conversation about OUR community, the education OUR children and the importance of OUR institutions of higher learning, as you suggest, is timely. I often wonder if future historians will record our actions and commitment to our community with the same pride and reverence that we hold for our ancestors.

  6. While I agree with Dr. Ashemore in utilizing “crowd funding” and taking an active role within the institute, I know from experience that if you are not a major giver the respect is not given equally. HBCUs, of which I a graduate, need to seriously restructure the departments and look carefully at their hiring procedures and who they are bring into their institution to provide quality services. I also believe that we can benefit more through the individualizing of department endowments and really holding our institutions and department chairs accountable. The curriculum needs to be seriously evaluated and to ensure that they (HBCUs) are hiring professors who have the best interest of the students and fully understand the mission of HBCUs. I am a proud graduate and strong supporter HBCUs.

  7. Black people need to find that love for one another again. Being an alumnae of Bennett College, I have seen what love can do. Dr. Johnnetta Cole stated, while at Bennett, that she has not seen alums this enthusiastic about their alma mater until she came to Bennett. So it’s all about love. No other HBCU ‘ S were raising 1 million dollars plus for there schools until Bennett College started doing so. We at Bennett tend to set trends but are never recognized for it. But then again, we look to God’s glory and not man’s. So remember, Love is the answer.

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