The Week in Anti-HBCU Headlines

Courtesy: Reuters (James Lawler Duggan)
Courtesy: Reuters (James Lawler Duggan)

Want to know how bad it is for historically black colleges? You don’t have to do a history lesson on historic inequities against these schools – just look at a few articles from this week. 

HBCUs Are Not Affordable

North Carolina A&T State University and Elizabeth City State University are the sole two historically black colleges listed on a recent national ranking of affordable colleges and universities. 

The list, which includes many Ivy League and private liberal arts institutions, defines affordability against a metric of students being able to finance a year of education for less than the average take-home pay of a part-time worker, roughly $3,600 per year.

This number is then factored with institutional graduation rates, scholarship and financial aid availability, and assumed contributions from a family making $48,000 per year. From

Using this measure, we found only 40 “affordable” colleges for low-income students that met our standard for acceptable graduation rates (either significantly above what would be expected for their student population or at least the median for their type of school). All of the colleges on this list appear to provide enough scholarships so that a typical low-income student who works part-time should be able to graduate debt-free.

Like most rankings of this kind, HBCUs are left on the outside looking in because of graduation rates. And that means we have to spend the time explaining that low graduation rates are not a complete picture of institutional rigor or productivity. Rather, they are a byproduct of giving access and opportunity to students who otherwise would not have a shot at a four-year degree, and a casualty of more college-ready students choosing non-HBCUs. 

The phenomena of racial tension and cultural mismatch is clashing with political movements to make students choose between community colleges or Ivy League schools, while research on academic mismatch between selective and open-enrollment schools drives the belief that HBCUs are near the bottom of the barrel on higher ed competitiveness and desirability. 

HBCUs Are Not The Answer to Racism at PWIs 

A sample of ‘HBCU vs. PWI’ commentaries following the Mizzou crisis and social media fallout. 

If these same words were written by white students or professors, black students on both sides of the issue would take offense. Like the ‘N’ word conversation, it’s okay for us to take our discussions on race pride, assimilation and integration, and how to live happily among white folks into the public square.  

But anyone else has to proceed with caution; and yet, we happily speak a pro-struggle perspective to defend predominantly white schools for actions and inaction that was en vogue in the 1950’s

A September Atlantic cover story made the case for black folks and others to stop crying about ‘safe spaces.’ Whether it was a simple wish, a well-stated prediction, or a well-coded memo to conservative, racialized operatives in higher ed trying to stave off reverse discrimination, the point is that there is no clearly sign of how majority campuses and the people who run them think about the latest push for ‘vindictive protectiveness’ and equity in white space. 

The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.


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