Monday, October 26, 2015

Diversity in Tech via profits, political activism, new technologies, and philanthropy -- Part 2 (HBCUs) of 4

Last update: Monday 10/26/15
In my opinion, as I noted in the Part 1 of this essay, America's traditional education and training programs at K-12 and post secondary levels are not providing most Black students with effective opportunities for acquiring the coding and computational thinking skills that are non-negotiable prerequisites for careers in information technology. 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 Part 4

If all other things were equal, Black college students could just opt out of ineffective programs that are mostly in the public sector and enroll in effective programs that are mostly in the private sector. But all other things are still grossly unequal, so private sector options are either too expensive for most Black students or they are inaccessible because their admissions standards are too high. Please note that I am not talking about all Black college students. Specifically, I am not talking about Black America's best and brightest, i.e., its "Talented Tenth". Sixty years after desegregation became the law of the land in education, there is reason to believe that most (but not all) of the Talented Tenth have earned high enough grades to gain admission to the nation's best colleges and universities where there are substantial scholarships and other financial aid resources. 

But where are the other Black students going who want to pursue careers in information technology or in other branches of STEM? Where are the members of the Talented Tenth going who don't have grades that accurately reflect their full potential? Where have these students gone in times past? The answer to all of these questions is the same ==> Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

E. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)
When I retired in early 2014, I had been a member of the tenured faculty and senior staff of one of the nation's leading HBCUs for over 40 years. And with each passing year I became increasingly amazed by the continuing relevance of these grossly understaffed, underfunded, and under-equipped institutions. 

More specifically, I was and remain dumbfounded by data that confirmed the continuing prominence of HBCUs as the nation's largest source of Black students who earn bachelors and doctoral degrees in STEM, the fields that provide the best foundations for careers in tech. As the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) likes to say, "The proof is in the productivity." HBCUs have maintained their prominence in STEM despite the fact that over 90 percent of Black college students have been enrolled in non-HBCUs for the last ten years. How is this possible? And for how long will this continue to be true?
  • What we really need ask is why HBCUs continue to be effective? Specifically, we need to ask what are they doing right? And we need to ask which of their their methods can be adopted by the nation's non-HBCUs where 90 percent of America's Black college students are enrolled today?
  • In my opinion it's important that we answer these questions as soon as possible  because my long-term pessimism about the survival of most HBCUs is stronger than ever. Seventy years ago, in pre-desegregation times, HBCUs enrolled over 95 percent of all Black college students. Today they enroll less than ten percent. In 2012 I examined the data that confirmed that HBCUs were the largest source of Black students who subsequently earned doctoral degrees in science and engineering in between 2002 and 2011 and found that just 21 of the 105 HBCUs accounted for 75 percent of these doctoral recipients. In other words, the share of Black enrollments at HBCUs is shrinking and so is the capacity for all but the strongest HBCUs to carry on this legacy.

Part 3 of this discussion presents my own answers to these questions, answers that are based on over forty years personal experience at a one of the nation's leading HBCUs, on conversations with and observations of my colleagues, on extensive reading, and on the data I systematically compiled about HBCUs in the last ten years for a series of reports posted elsewhere on this blog. 

Continued in Part 3 

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