Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why Are HBCUs Still Needed? -- Part V

Last updated: Sunday 11/24/12 @ 12:23 pm
This is my fifth and probably my last attempt to answer to this question. IMHO HBCUs are still needed because the non-HBCUs in the mainstream of U.S. higher education have provided inadequate opportunities and inadequate inspiration for the nation's black students.
  • There is a persistent gap between the academic achievements of most black students and most white students at the vast majority of the nation's colleges and universities, i.e., retention rates, graduation rates, GPAs, class standings, etc
  • Although the academic achievements of the most talented black students, a/k/a, the Talented Tenth, are comparable to the academic achievements of comparably gifted white students at the nation's most elite colleges and universities, the Talented Tenth do not attain comparable achievements  five to ten years after graduation. Why not? Is it only because persistent, powerful racism places extraordinary obstacles in their paths to success?

    Or could it also be because their academic preparation at the nation's most elite institutions failed to provide them with sufficient inspiration for them to overcome extraordinary racist obstacles, as extraordinary black people have always done???
During the 1970s and 1980s, in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Revolution, I sincerely believed that HBCUs had become transitional institutions that would only be needed for a few more decades as the vast majority of black students were integrated into the nation's mainstream colleges and universities. But the persistence of achievement gaps in the 1990s and 2000s caused me to recognize the applicability of the old dictum that "when the student failed to learn, the teacher failed to teach." 

I now believe that persistent achievement gaps reflect the persistent inadequacy of the learning opportunities presented to most black students by mainstream institutions. And I see no reason to believe that mainstream institutions will develop more effective pedagogies for black students in the next twenty years than they have in the last twenty years. Nor do I see any reason to believe that the most elite institutions in the integrated mainstream will develop a greater capacity to inspire the Talented Tenth to rise to extraordinary heights after graduation. In other words, I believe that HBCUs are still needed because I expect the nation's mainstream institutions to continue to provide inadequate opportunities and inadequate inspiration for their black students for the foreseeable future. 

HBCUs have the will to develop effective innovations that could then be adopted by the mainstream. But do they have the means? Unfortunately, the traditional low-tech/high touch teaching and administrative procedures that are still used by many HBCUs are no longer cost-effective; nor do the faculty and administrators of most of the nation's 106 HBCUs have the sophisticated IT skills required to upgrade to state-of-the-art implementations; and many HBCUs are too hard pressed in the aftermath of the Great Recession to afford extensive upgrades. 

In other economic sectors, such widespread shortfalls would invite downsizing,  mergers, and partnerships. But in academia, downsizing tends to be a one-way street, and mergers entail an unacceptable loss of identity for alums and Boards of Trustees. This leaves partnerships. As pointed out in numerous recent posts on this blog, today's Internet can facilitate strategic alliances among HBCUs, i.e., "Virtual HBCUs", that could enable participating institutions to pool their resources in order to share costs and benefits. Virtual HBCUs could enable the best and brightest faculty and administrators within the HBCU community to work together to address the challenges that have not been met by the nation's mainstream institutions.

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