HBCU DIGEST: When saving HBCUs distracts from countering the dangerous MSI agenda

Officials in Michigan earlier this month announced plans to support the reopening of the Lewis College of Business and Design, a school that will now be committed to free education for non-traditional, minority learners in Detroit. 

The media billed it as the return of Detroit’s only historically Black institution. But, in name and law, it is not. With an increasing number of policies being developed to marginalize HBCU funding and missions, the larger public must understand the critical differences between what an HBCU is, what it could be, and how the nation has quietly designated hundreds of schools to replace HBCUs with virtually no one in our communities being the wiser.

An HBCU is defined by federal law as “any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”

The PENSOLE Lews College of Business and Design is not yet accredited, and students who enroll beginning this year are ineligible to receive federal financial aid towards attending the school. In addition, the school is ineligible to receive grants and funding from the U.S. Department of Education for operations and program development, which makes its existence exclusively dependent upon tuition and gifts. 

Another thing to consider is the legal standing to reopen or reorganize as an HBCU. Over the years, disappearing enrollment and financial hardship led to accreditation that shut down or stalled some Black colleges. Saint Paul’s College in Virginia closed in 2013 and Concordia College in Alabama closed in 2018. Similar issues caused Paine College and Bennett College to lose their accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) in 2016 and 2019 respectively, but neither institution formally closed its doors. 

Both campuses have earned membership in the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) and operate today. Unlike Saint Paul’s and Concordia, neither of these schools had financials, property deeds, land parcels, or municipal records reflecting businesses that were no longer in existence. 

That has long been part of the strategy of struggling private HBCUs; become inoperable but never close because in doing so, there may be a forfeiture of chartered and municipal authority to reopen and operate in their previous forms. Morris Brown CollegeKnoxville College, and Barber-Scotia College never formally closed and remain alive for revitalization today, no matter how much of a long-shot it may appear to be for each of them. 

Can closed HBCUs reopen and maintain a federal designation with new incorporation, new bylaws, and new rules on how to receive and spend funds for the education of Black students? Should any school just be allowed to carry the title ‘HBCU’ because of the power it can yield in philanthropy, the attention it can bring in media, and the heartstrings it can tug in the general public?

More than the strategy to maintain long-standing schools with rich histories, defining HBCU designation is vital for maintaining public support for all Black colleges. For years, federal and state governments have pushed funding formulas and support that used to be exclusive to HBCUs into pools that include minority-serving institutions

From former HBCU Digest Editor Jarrett Carter Sr. in 2021:

Roughly more than 750 two and four-year colleges and universities throughout the country are classified as minority-serving institutions; schools where between 10 and 25% of the total enrollment is comprised of African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or Indigenous American students… If powerful PWIs with minority-serving credentials can prove to be better equipped for research, student retention, graduation rates, and post-graduate career outcomes for minority students, how long does the George Floyd effect last on elected officials with no legislative allegiance to HBCUs, and all allegiance to data-driven budget guidelines?

Any predominantly white institution can now set a course to enroll a broad group of minority students to get a pseudo-HBCU designation and the funding that follows it. All they have to do is enroll enough students of color to classify for money formerly earmarked for HBCUs and their community-driven missions. So are former and fading HBCUs helping or hurting the cause of more robust Black colleges by carving out space in a shrinking sector?

Having more HBCUs may feel good, but soon, it may come with a high price. Is the cost of resurrecting long-dead HBCU campuses worth the sacrifice of those institutions which have survived and seek to thrive?

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