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Historically black colleges face uncertain future

By Jerome Bailey Jr. | 7/25/2014, 9:19 a.m.
(AP) - Three days before Payton Wilkins returned home to Detroit last May with a bachelor’s degree, his cousin was ...
In this Thursday, July 17, 2014 photo, plywood covers the doors and windows of Gaines Gall on the campus of Morris Brown College in Atlanta. Morris Brown College, a 133-year-old private institution, filed for bankruptcy in August 2012 and has received court approval to sell some of its property. In the last 20 years, five historically black colleges and universities have shut down and about a dozen have dealt with accreditation issues. (AP Photo)

During Spelman’s ten year record-breaking fundraising period, alumnae participation was an astounding 71 percent.

"If nothing changes, they will eliminate them,’’ says Rasheed. "That will be the biggest mistake this country has ever made.’’

Marybeth Gasman, an expert on historically black colleges and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said states should support black colleges because they are doing the "lion’s share’’ of the work for first generation-students like Wilkins.

"Historically black colleges serve low-income students, first-generation students, students of color, adult learners, part-time students, students who might be what I call `swirlers’ who swirl in and swirl out of academe,’’ says Gasman.

Eighty-four percent of students at historically black schools receive Pell Grants, which are federal, need-based funds awarded to low-income students.

Wilkins says the question of relevancy for HBCU’s is itself irrelevant.

"Coming to Dillard, I really wasn’t prepared academically. Dillard brought out of me this urge to want to learn,’’ says Wilkins. He graduated with a political science degree and plans to go to law school.

As society changes, many historically black colleges and universities are not all black anymore. One of every four students at a historically black institution is Hispanic, Asian-American, white or of another ethnicity.

Zane Lewis, a white freshman from Sanford, North Carolina, plans to major in business or marketing at North Carolina Central University, a historically black school in Durham.

"I thought I wasn’t really going to fit in but, I mean, everyone has been really friendly so far,’’ says Lewis. "I just want to walk away saying that they didn’t treat me different.’’

Gasman says states are reluctant to support historically black colleges because they consider them segregated _ although largely white universities can be less integrated than the historically black schools.

"We are no more separate than Chapel Hill is,’’ says Rasheed, referring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the student body was 66 percent white last fall, according to data from the college portrait of undergraduate education website.

"If they close down Elizabeth City State, are they going to allow 2,000 more African-Americans and others to be admitted at other campuses?’’ he asked.

Stan Washington, The Atlanta Voice added to this article. He is an alum of Clark (College) Atlanta University.