May 6th, 2009 10:46 EST
The Black College Stimulus Plan
We need a stimulus plan to preserve and expand historically Black colleges. If the federal government can come up with rationalizations for bailing out Wall Street, making sure there is No Bank Left Behind and pumping millions into what comedian Bill Maher calls Notorious A.I.G., it can produce a stimulus plan for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Established in the post-Civil War era known as Reconstruction, HBCUs have made phenomenal contributions to the nation, producing such alumni as W.E. B. DuBois, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mary McMcLeod Bethune, Thurgood Marshall, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Oprah Winfrey, Doug Wilder, Former Surgeon General David Satcher, Sean "P.Diddy" Combs, Astronaut Ronald E. McNair, Attorney Willie Gary, legendary football coaches Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson and pro athletes such as Althea Gibson, Jerry Rice, John Stallworth, Doug Williams and Walter Payton.
Although there are a significant number of 2- and 4-year colleges with predominantly Black enrollments, only 105 qualify as HBCUs. The Higher Education Act of 1965 defines an HBCU as "Any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans..."
Black colleges represent only 3 percent of the nation`s universities, but they produce 23.6 percent of all bachelor`s degrees earned by Blacks. In the math and sciences, that figure is more than 40 percent. The United Negro College Fund reports that Black colleges have produced 70 percent of all Black doctors and dentists and half of all African-American engineers.
I grew up in the shadows of Stillman College, a Black college in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and now serve as chairman of the board of trustees of Knoxville College, my alma mater. Two weeks ago, I addressed the annual national alumni dinner at Barber-Scotia College in Concord, N.C. On Friday, I will be delivering the commencement address at Alabama A&M University and on Saturday will do the same at Knoxville College in Tennessee. As a journalist and public speaker, I have addressed students at more than 25 Black colleges.
Over the years, I have been most impressed by the students who credit HBCUs with giving them the education, guidance and training they needed at a critical juncture. Two Knoxville College examples immediately come to mind. A story in the September 1998 issue of Emerge magazine gave this account:
"Four years ago, Nadir F. Johnson was a drug dealer who wanted to change his base of operation. So he moved from Hampton, Virginia to East Tennessee. But within a week of establishing a new residence, to his surprise, Johnson also established a new lifestyle, enrolling in college and kicking his old habits. By 1996, Johnson had made the Dean`s List and was elected president of the student body at Knoxville College."
Today, Johnson is a manager in the construction industry in the Washington, D.C. area.
Another example is Forrest Harris, president of American Bible College in Nashville. He recalls, "Without Knoxville College, the door to higher education would have been closed to a disadvantaged young man who barely survived the social dysfunctions of public education to graduate from high school but did not have the sufficient educational and academic skill set for admission to college. I was disadvantaged, unable to pass college standardized admission tests, and my parents were without resources to aid me to access necessary remedial training beyond high school. Knoxville College had the creative program opportunity and the dedicated resources that helped me overcome my disadvantages."
In addition to serving as president of American Baptist College, Harris has served on the faculty and directed the Black Church Studies Institute at Vanderbilt University.
There are thousands of similar HBCU success stories.
But in recent years, many HBCUs have been struggling because of a combination of factors, including underfunding. That`s why I am proposing that Congress and the Obama administration pass a 5-year, $5 billion stimulus plan for Black colleges. According to the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges, there are 105 HBCUs. So an expenditure of $1 billion per year for five years would mean that each college could average nearly $1 million per year for the next five years. If we can bail out Notorious A.I.G., we can and should help save our HBCUs. In fact, saving them is in the national interest.
According to a report by the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University, titled, "With All Deliberate Speed: Achievement, Citizenship and Diversity of American Education," only 31 percent of Latinos complete some college and 48 percent of African-Americans, compared to 62 percent of Whites and 80 percent of Asian Americans.
"We are losing ground and jobs to other countries - for example, China and India," the report states. "Our nation`s ability to sustain our long-term economic success depends on the very children we are not educating now. According to the National Center on Education and the Economy, by the year 2020, the U.S. will need 14 million more college-trained workers than it will produce. Nowhere is college participation lower than among African-Americans and Hispanic youth; nowhere is the potential to meet our nation`s need for college graduates greater."
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com.