HBCU DIGEST: HBCU community has to get much better at embracing smaller institutions

Paul Quinn College’s men’s basketball team won the United States Collegiate Athletic Association championship last night with a 80-69 win over Bryant & Stratton Buffalo. The title game win, earned on the campus of Virginia State University, helped the Tigers finish the season 26-2 and with their first USCAA trophy since 1995.

It wasn’t a game that millions of people around the world watched or that drew in millions in sponsorship dollars. But Paul Quinn is the best team in a collection of teams from all over the country. For any historically Black institution, that’s saying a lot and it is a narrative that the college has been carrying for a long time.


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Everything that Morris Brown College wants or pretends to be, Paul Quinn has done. The kind of synergy that most HBCUs want to have with their home cities, Paul Quinn enjoys. A school that once was a month out from financial ruin and accreditation oblivion now finds itself financially stable and giving students an affordable education with workforce development pathways.

So why is it so hard for the HBCU community at large to buy into how and why Paul Quinn is excelling?

There has to be a way for the United Negro College Fund to find a place for Paul Quinn on its roster of private institutions. There is too much synergy between the most popular HBCU advocacy organization and one of the sector’s most diverse, innovative, and fastest-growing institutions for there to continue to be a long-standing gap between the campus and the association.

The U.S. Department of Education, particularly under Democratic leadership, should find a way to elevate PQC as an example of how higher education works well for under-served students and communities and funding them as such.

There’s something to be said about our sector and how schools are relatively made or broken by Google search results. MacKenzie Scott’s wealth distribution to HBCUs is driven largely by how well-known or well-listed campuses are in the public dialogue of ‘best colleges and universities,’ or those in concert with UNCF or Thurgood Marshall College Fund programming.

Schools that are tapped for unique corporate opportunities usually benefit from shared geography with companies interested in alliances with HBCUs. If you aren’t near them, it’s hard to get attention in areas beyond the HBCU corridor of Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, Richmond, and Washington D.C. without public flagship institutional status. The cultural agreement within the national HBCU community that if you aren’t in the southeast, don’t field football, or a killer marching band, and aren’t producing alumni in high-earning, high-visibility fields, the path is available but harder to travel.

Paul Quinn isn’t the only victim of our geographically-biased goodwill. We’ve had high-profile presidential retirements in the last few years from schools like Tougaloo College, Talladega College, Livingstone College, and Claflin University. All four campuses said or will say farewell to distinguished presidents in conditions that were or are better than when Beverly Wade Hogan, Billy Hawkins, Jimmy Jenkins, and Henry Tisdale first embraced them.

All four deserved sector-wide appreciation for their work, and among HBCU presidents, chancellors and insiders, they received their flowers. But students, alumni and faculty who do not live and work within those campus’ borders will never know about their impact on the sector, simply because the HBCU multiverse splits along so many socioeconomic and cultural planes.

We have to do a much better job of making our smaller institutions, both public and private, as recognizable and representative of HBCU culture as we do our largest HBCU brands. In Dallas, Paul Quinn’s brand and stature loom as large as that of Texas Southern University in Houston or Florida A&M University in Tallahassee because of the impact it has. There are many schools around the country with the same market share effect.

All of our institutions deserve more public support, corporate partnership, and enrollment opportunities. Google, U.S. News & World Report, Home Depot, and the Honda Battle of the Bands shouldn’t have a say in the destiny of any of our institutions.