Historically Black Colleges and Universities
How will they survive and thrive in the 21st century?
For decades, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been vital to educating and uplifting African-Americans. They have taught generations of men and women and helped change the course of America. But their relevance and sustainability are being challenged now like never before.
The Undefeated, in an effort to capture the legacy and potential of these great institutions, has asked HBCU stakeholders – famous alumni, university presidents, former athletes, students and others: How can HBCUs survive and thrive heading into the next decade and beyond?
“I think HBCUs have to use one of our critical advantages from being small to medium size. We have to be nimble and transformative to make sure we can develop the kinds of support programs to provide quality access to a new generation of students. While at the same time providing access to great careers.on the other side of being able to change our academic programs and being able to be on the cutting edge of the new programs of tomorrow. So we can bring students in, provide a quality experience and get them out.
“Our advantage has always been our ability to deliver high-quality value. We have to continue to be able to do that and use our size to be able to change quickly and nimbly in a very changing world.”
“For nearly 200 years, HBCUs have provided millions of African-Americans with a path to a college degree and America’s middle class. Despite systemic discrimination and intentional neglect from both the federal and state governments, HBCUs still produce an outsize amount of talented African-Americans in all sectors of employment, relative to their size.
“In order to continue this legacy of success, we must ensure HBCUs have the tools needed to compete with their counterparts. HBCUs have historically suffered from substandard infrastructure and a lack of engagement from both public and private sources.
“There is no doubt that HBCUs still matter today as a place where young African-Americans can have their talents and contributions cultivated and appreciated to the fullest extent. It is time for our society to recognize their relevance as well.”
“Well, here’s the thing. We’ve got to find creative ways to make sure that the monies are there. That’s going to take all of our superstars, our entrepreneurs. Just because you don’t have the billion-dollar endowments, it doesn’t mean that what you contribute doesn’t make a difference. It makes a huge difference. We’ve got to find ways to raise my money. We’ve got to make sure that our professionals come back and serve as speakers, teachers, guest professors, all of that, because what really makes a difference is when a student can get the information from a person who’s lived it. The by-the-book thing, it doesn’t really work anymore because we have Google and all of these searches. You can search online for something on how to make a speech, and there’s even an example on YouTube or something like that.
“You really need people who are professional speakers who have done it, who can tell a student, ‘Hey, you don’t want to do a speech concerning this. You don’t want to do a speech concerning that.’ Or, ‘You don’t want to use your words like that. You want to get the most out of it.’ Then show them which words make the most powerful statements. You can’t get that from the internet, so you will always need HBCUs. You will always need colleges and universities that strive for excellence. There’s never going to be a time when we don’t need the HBCUs.
“HBCUs have survived this long because of the dedication of the professors and the staff and the presidents of those colleges and universities, because we don’t get the $100 million endowment. And it’s unfortunate to me that we don’t get the billion-dollar buildings and things that would make life better and more viable. But what you do get is a sense of community. You get a sense of I’m here with people who really care about me, I’m not just a number. I’m not just somebody that they want to count as a minority. Because, you know, I’ve dealt with all situations.
“My first university was a university here in the city of Houston that was not a historically black university. Even as a person who went to class, did all that I was supposed to do, there was this thing that was missing. Then there was this issue with my internship, and when the professor told me that I was going to have to stay another year, in my senior year, and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, no, sir. No, no, no, sir. That’s not a part of the plan. I have a plan, and that is not a part of the plan.’ I talked to one of my father’s friends, he’s like, ‘Adams, why were you over there anyway?’ And so I transferred to Texas Southern University. Got into Texas Southern University. Did all my classes and got my internship at one of our major affiliates here. It was just like, OK, how far ahead would I have been, I probably would’ve graduated a year before had I been at a place where folks took a real responsibility for being accountable for my … I don’t want to say matriculation, but my growth. As a person.
“I learned so much more there. It wasn’t just a cookie-cutter kind of, OK, here it is by the book. No, I had instructors who had been on television, and they had already done sportswriting and all of that stuff because I am radio/TV, journalism. That was my goal.”
“HBCUs are still relevant as social tensions exist and the work of social justice remains incomplete. Black students still desire safe spaces. Young African-American students want to be in an environment where others look like them and have black professors who want to see you succeed. What HBCUs need is to rebrand themselves for the next century, reminding students, the community and the nation about their success stories and why they are even more relevant today.
“That rebranding effort should start with new campaigns. A good number of students in non-Southern states do not get to learn about the legacy of HBCUs while in public school. As a student from Lynn, Massachusetts, who made her way to New Orleans, it was through the high school program at the National Association of Black Journalists that I encountered professors and mentors who have come from HBCUs. But growing up in the North, my friends and I did not have a lot of opportunities to get to know about HBCUs and what they stand for. HBCUs can begin to engage the next generation of potential graduates about their legacy and unique experiences through social media that can generate more interest in attending an HBCU.
“HBCUs do not only cater to black students; anyone is welcome. White, Asian and Hispanic students have attended HBCUs, and it is an opportunity for them to engage black peers in meaningful, valuable ways. As more people of color from different ethnic groups attend HBCUs, it provides a platform for these black institutions to educate future citizens about the black experience, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.
“Finally, HBCUs can use their ambassadors. As a Homecoming Scholar, I benefited from Beyoncé’s pledge at her acclaimed 2018 Coachella headline performance. The theme of her unforgettable performance was the HBCU culture. Important figures in the black community have come through HBCUs, with big alumni like Taraji P. Henson, Spike Lee to even Oprah Winfrey. Although many of these celebrities give back to HBCUs, many schools and programs are still underfunded. All alumni, whether famous or not, need to help their alma mater. On average, HBCU alumni giving is often under 25 percent. The fact that a lot of alumni will show their school pride during homecoming but do not give back is something as a community we need to improve on.”
“We don’t give to our own as we should. And I think we have to do a better job to go after kids to go to our schools. I went to an HBCU. We’ve got to give, really give, to our schools. And we have to go after people who have been successful who don’t give and be real deliberate about that. And we have to be very competitive and write grants, and apply for grants and come to Capitol Hill and lobby for funds for our programs. And don’t take no. No is not an option.”
“My first coaching job was at Morehouse, and from there to Grambling State University and then going back to the [NFL], but those two schools taught me a lot about coaching. I was fortunate enough to teach some great young men at both universities, and it taught me the core of my coaching values when Doug Williams gave me a job. HBCUs are all about work. They have great students, and they have great student-athletes as well. There’s no experience like being at an HBCU, I can tell you that right now, so just keep working and keep striving to be great.”
“There’s nothing like an experience at a HBCU. There’s so much culture and history behind them, they can definitely still thrive in the future. It’s important for us to continue to embrace the rich tradition of our HBCUs and to support and find innovative ways to keep all HBCUs in the forefront of success.”
“HBCUs can survive and thrive by continuing to maximize the talent that is on their respective campuses. Whether that be from athletics to entertainment to the classroom, HBCUs are in a unique position that they are small enough to rally around talent on their campuses and help individually push students to become the best they can possibly be while also being big enough to connect these students into prominent spaces that will help students become lucrative donors in the future. … The emphasis for HBCUs has always been on the students, and it should continue to be that so that the relationship between students and their HBCU administration can help lead to the growth of the universities in the future.”
“I don’t know the total formula for what it takes for HBCUs to thrive into the next decade — but I do know that it cannot happen without consistent annual alumni giving. And unfortunately, with some prominent exceptions — Spelman, Bennett, Hampton, probably Howard and maybe Florida A&M — the level of alumni giving at HBCUs is kind of atrocious. That pride and that degree of vocal association with your schools is not reflected in the alumni giving, and that really does need to change. You cannot attract faculty, you can’t compete for students or the best students, you can’t maintain your facilities, you can’t provide the scholarship money necessary to help those students who are not necessarily able. And this forces a lot of HBCU students to take on more loans than they should because the schools can’t necessarily provide the financial support that many of these students need to be able to continue on in their education.
“Annual alumni giving needs to be the norm. It needs to be expected. We’re talking about thriving, not just surviving. And alumni giving has to be a part of that equation. So if you graduated from an HBCU, even if you’re a new graduate, $5, $10, get into the habit now of giving back to your college or university. You are probably the biggest beneficiary of those schools. You’re the one permanent stakeholder. Faculty come and go. Professors come and go. But you’re alumni. Your association with your school is permanent, and you need to establish alumni giving as a permanent part of that identity as an HBCU alum.”
“HBCUs play a critical role in the ecosphere of higher education and importantly in our larger society. HBCUs are still at the top of the list when you look at where African-Americans, at the highest levels of our society, are coming from. Look at the African-Americans in Congress — 40 percent of them attended HBCUs.
“HBCUs need to make sure that our communities are recognized. We have to make sure that they’re supportive of our agencies. So philanthropy, going forward, is important. And then for the broader community, we have to also recognize the major impact that HBCUs play in the national direction, and on how many fields [HBCUs] influence.
“We need to interact and engage around opportunities to provide solutions for the multitude of societal issues that are facing us. We’re so much stronger together than apart.
“The need for collaboration is critical. A great example is our Howard West program, the university’s academic partnership with Google. We now have an expansion of that to other HBCUs, and that’s an example of collaborative effort. With something like that we can increase the experience of the faculty, and ultimately it can hit the curriculum at all the HBCUs.”
“First off, I’m a graduate of Florida A&M University. I would not be who I am today were it not for the Florida A&M University. It molded me, helped to shape me, cultivated me, put me in situations that I didn’t always think I could win. But with the courage that we got from this campus, we were able to go on and do great things. So I think we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve always done, which is take those little seeds and buds and cultivate them — turn them into amazing jewels in society. That’s what FAMU did for me, and that’s what it can do for others.”
“We need these schools. And we will continue to need these schools. They are as much a part of American education as any other, as the women’s schools are. We need all forms of education. It’s important. And in order to be a part of America, we shouldn’t have to give up who we are.
“Nobody would ask the Catholics what is the point of a Catholic college. What’s the point of a Catholic education? We need the black education, and, like all other schools, we need to have nonblacks coming to our schools. I’m a Fisk graduate, and if you look at what Fisk has brought, W.E.B. Du Bois invented sociology. The Jubilee Singers who took the spirituals around the world. They became the Jubilee Singers because they were invited to England to present themselves, as it were, to Queen Victoria. And she awarded them ultimately 50,000 pounds. And they were able to save the school because the school was going bankrupt. And they stayed and she had the court painter paint a lovely portrait, which is right there in Jubilee Hall. And they became the Fisk Jubilee Singers in honor of Victoria.
“Of course you need black schools, and you need the history that we teach, and we need the diversity that these schools offer.”
“The way that HBCUs can survive, we have to continue to create the culture of giving back and putting an emphasis on that as well as continuing to move forward with the times. We also have to continue being good stewards of our money as well as making a point to lobby legislators and lawmakers to let them know the importance of HBCUs and what they mean to us and to our American society.
“HBCUs are an integral part of our American fabric, and it’s the bedrock from which I stand, being a fourth-generation Florida A&M Rattler. From a social perspective, [HBCUs] promote self-love and validation as well. From a political climate, [HBCUs] breed leadership from our past leaders to our current leaders from all sectors: from business and industry, science and technology, media, influencers all the way across the board.”
“The way that HBCUs can thrive in the new millennium is to go out and recruit. Go out and recruit the students that you want — National Merit Scholars, athletes, well-rounded people — the people that you want to see in your school to make your situation hot. To make [HBCUs] a great learning place and make it a great place of creativity. Go out and get those students and give them money. That’s what you do.”
“It’s a tough challenge for the HBCUs use to thrive because they just don’t have the resources to play catch-up with the major powers. When you look at the staffing, when you look at the departments of athletics, the different support staff, the HBCUs just don’t have that. So it’s hard for them to recruit athletes that they need to be successful. It’s hard for them to stay on point with the rules and regulations of the NCAA because they just don’t have the staff.
“I don’t know if Division I is the only option, and I’m not suggesting that the HBCUs that are Division I — the SWAC, MEAC — consider dropping down. But until they get more resources, it’s going to be a real strong, strong challenge.”
“We as alums have failed HBCUs — we have not championed them in the way that they deserve. They continue to do amazing things, and until we have a reverence for our HBCUs in much the same way that churches have played in our communities for hundreds of years, I don’t feel we will truly appreciate the sterling work that HBCUs continue to do. To put things in perspective, I’m a Howard University alumnus; Howard University has a 50 percent Pell Grant eligibility student population. That means 50 percent of the 10,000 [students] that are enrolled in Howard University simply cannot afford to go to college. These are stats that people don’t appreciate well enough. Until we do, and until we continue to support and champion those institutions and those students, I don’t feel we’ll truly tell the story, the real story, of HBCUs here in America.”
“I think the key for all HBCUs is [an emphasis] on bold, innovative research and programs. When you think of Howard and other [institutions like that], you think of people like Charles Drew inventing medical techniques that are good for everyone around the world. You think of people like Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston in law, how they literally ended Jim Crow. The need for that kind of innovative, revolutionary thinking in every academic discipline can come from HBCUs.
“That’s the key, to really have a spirit of innovation and one that crosses disciplines. Having bold research programs that combine things like addressing the ongoing health crises in our communities, having people from the medical school and pharmacy school and law school all working together to address those kinds of crises. When we talk about things like economic inequality, [it’s important] to really focus on how economists, political scientists, computer scientists, lawyers and doctors can all work together to address economic inequality.
“What HBCUs bring to the table that is rare is this ability to have people across disciplines focus on the problems that are really confronting the black community. And so I think with that focus on innovative problem-solving and universities being the hub of that problem-solving, that will be the key to having HBCUs thrive for the next 200, 300 years, is to really focus on how universities power the solutions to the most pressing crises in our community.”
“I think the way HBCUs can continue to thrive is to not be as hard on themselves as we historically have been. As a member of the HBCU family, I’ve oftentimes heard internal critiques, particularly about people — whether that’s administrators, faculty or students — that there’s something wrong with these people. These are the people and the reasons why HBCUs are struggling, when in fact the real issue at HBCUs, like in other black spaces, is resources.”
“There’s a huge resource gap between HBCUs and historically white colleges and universities that is caused by public funding gaps, that’s caused by a wealth gap between the races.
“I think we should stop critiquing the people and recognize there’s good people and not-so-good people at HBCUs, just like there are at other institutions, and those good and bad people have been able to nurture and allow to thrive many great treasures over the course of this country’s history.”
“I think we can fully embrace who we are as historically black institutions. I don’t think we need to run from that. I think there are lots of students that are looking for that kind of experience. So I think that it is very needed today. But I think we need to embrace all that means in a history of people that has been creative. I think we should have the same kind of creativity in the educational space and everything that we do. I think we should be true to our roots as HBCUs but be creative in a space that we are in and not be held hostage by history, but to use the history of creativity as we go forward.
“That’s all we have to do because I think students really are drawn to that experience. They want that, so I don’t think we have to pull back from that and people want that experience. So I think we embrace it but we still have to be relevant with the times.”
“At Bluefield State, our faculty and staff routinely go ‘above and beyond,’ engaging students both in and out of the classroom to ensure that they succeed. The nurturing, family environment for which BSC and other HBCUs are known empowers students to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible. With this close-knit culture of caring and reaching out to students, HBCUs have been true models of student success for over 150 years. HBCU graduates ‘report more-positive college experiences and outcomes than African American graduates of other colleges. More students … reported feeling that HBCUs had “prepared them well for life outside of college” and had provided them with faculty support’ (Leichter, 2016). This culture will continue to attract today’s students who, especially, are looking for a personal college experience and want to make a difference in their communities and the world. HBCUs must sustain our historic student focus. This characteristic is increasingly recognized more broadly as a best practice in higher education and recommended as a model for other institutions to emulate.
“HBCUs are well-positioned to appeal to today’s diverse group of students who are seeking a personal, engaging educational environment and express the passion to make a difference in the world. History and traditions are important; thus, students attending HBCUs should learn the purpose for the founding of their institutions and the indelible impact these colleges and their graduates continue to make in society.
“Throughout our history, HBCUs have transformed the lives of students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and prepared them for meaningful careers. Our institutions must continue to fulfill that role. As HBCUs increasingly serve both black and nonblack students, we have an incredible opportunity to emphasize a strong social justice mission, educating graduates who are conversant across various cultures and committed to working toward equality for all people. We can bring that mission and purpose to the forefront as we continue to celebrate and recognize the foundation and reason for our existence.
“Each HBCU has its own distinct programmatic strengths; we will thrive as those strengths and the related accomplishments of our students and faculty become more visible and widely recognized. Going forward, each institution must thoroughly understand and expand upon its unique strengths with new and redesigned programs that will prepare students with skills that will be sought after in the future. HBCUs also can thrive as we meet the educational needs of the large population of potential students who desire to enter or return to college after working for a number of years.”
“We must do everything possible to see that our historic black colleges and universities survive. They’ve been our shepherd during a time of great storms. If it hadn’t been for these colleges and universities, where would we be as a people and as a nation? They taught us, they led us, they inspired us, they gave us hope in a time of hopelessness. Some of the leaders that stood up and spoke up and spoke out and got in what I call “good” trouble, necessary trouble. During the days following slavery and during the great wars, HBCUs are responsible for us being what we are today. If it hadn’t been for these colleges, would there have been a W. E. B. Du Bois? Would there have been a Martin Luther King Jr.? A James Farmer? These are leaders. We cannot and must not forget the contribution that these colleges and universities have made in helping to redeem the soul of America, to help pray for what Dr. King called ‘the beloved community.’”
“I think that this is just like any aspirational goal. It means determining what the dimensions of the goal are and relentlessly, relentlessly pursuing that goal. In this case, we need a comprehensive strategy which addresses financial, academic, institutional leadership governance to ensure that these institutions have all of the foundational elements that a great institution has and that they’re sustainable and not just one-time interventions.”
“A key to the surviving and thriving of HBCUs is the extent to which African-American people enthusiastically value them, not only through their monetary contributions but also through the ways that we embrace them. We would be bereft, as a people, without HBCUs, but too few of us understand that enough to lift these institutions up and assist them in their future development.
“I could probably write a book or two about what HBCUs need. Most, including the flagship Howard University, are under-resourced, with smaller endowments than needed for sustainability. Many do not have the latest equipment and have deferred maintenance needs running into the millions. Some have faculty who shoulder heavy teaching loads. The private colleges, especially the small private colleges, do not have the level of federal support that would allow them to thrive fully. The larger, state-funded colleges never seem to be quite as valued as their non-HBCU state-funded peers.
“We play the pride game and poke our chests out if we are alums, many flocking back to homecoming football games, alumni weekends or Founders’ Days in droves. But how many who clamor for reunion opportunities also clamor to give? HBCU alumni giving rates are far lower than levels at predominantly white institutions.
“You don’t have to go to an HBCU to give to one. In fact, I frequently tell people that if they didn’t go to an HBCU, they should adopt one. Why? Because we must preserve our African-American institutions. Because they are a fortress against the campus discrimination that so many of our young people experience at predominantly white institutions. Because HBCUs are economic drivers in the often small and Southern communities where they are located. Because HBCU faculty often do the kind of research that moves the African-American community toward productive social and economic policy.
“I’ve mentioned Howard University because it is considered the “mother lode” of HBCUs, among our oldest and most distinguished. But all HBCUs, even those facing extreme financial challenges, have some distinctive faculty and innovative programs, and they make critical contributions to scholarship and activism. What would Black America look like absent HBCUs?”
“When you have a unique niche in the market, you just have to continue to strengthen that niche. There’s nothing like an HBCU black college football game. I don’t care where you go or what you do, there’s nothing like it with the band, pageantry, the tailgating. I get a chance to go to all types — football games, high school, collegiate, you know, some of the major institutions — there’s nothing like an HBCU football game or an HBCU basketball game. We just have to ensure that we continue that tradition and our niche in that market and I think we’re going to be just fine. I think HBCUs are firmly planted; I think we have to continue to do what’s right from a standpoint of academics and compliance when it comes to athletics. I think we have to continue to be institutions of integrity and create opportunities for those that have not had the same ability to achieve the same opportunity that other groups have had in the past. But if we can stay on the path, then we can stay on the course.”
“HBCUs need strong, consistent leadership. What I’ve found is that survival is contingent on leadership, and there’s a lot of discussion about leadership, not just the presidents and the chancellors, but the appointments to boards who are driving strategy, who are driving mission for institutions, who are being appointed by fate, and who’s making those boards up and making decisions on who’s in the seat of leadership. The leadership, to me, really is going to determine how well the institutions, particularly HBCUs, are going to survive.
“HBCUs need consistency. As I look at the presidents at our institutions, and we have some amazing leaders that have come into our conference. I have nine new presidents, 10, since I started back in 2012. So, for me, having worked in sports, when you can value athletics and see that it brings strength in enrollment and opportunities to build the whole university community as part of integrating athletics into higher education, there’s something unique about them understanding and valuing education much beyond just the classroom.
“HBCUs need to be the first option again. We have to embed in our kids early that an HBCU can be an opportunity for them to go to, because we really need HBCUs in our communities to bring economic value. They bring great academic standards, experience, cultural learning, opportunities far beyond what I believe that they’ll receive at predominantly white institutions, and I’m a product of that, so I can speak on it.
“HBCUs need alumni giving. I also believe that alumni giving is critical to help the survival of our institutions. We have to see our giving the same way that alumni at white institutions do, and they do well at the big schools or even smaller, private schools. It’s not an option.
“HBCUs bring economic empowerment. HBCUs give jobs. If you look at the HBCU Make America Strong, the UNCF report, it talks about the 101 HBCUs that exist. $14.8 billion annually are funneled in communities through our historically black colleges. 135,000-plus jobs are given, and $130 billion lifetime earnings. Numbers don’t lie.”
“Students go to HBCUs because of the familiarity of it all, like [North Carolina] A&T, second and third generations go there. They’re going to these schools because it feels like family.
“When you are comfortable, the rich, nurturing experiences lift you up. You get caring professors, people who look out for you. The supportive atmosphere found at HBCUs allows students to excel without the racial pressures that exist outside the classroom.
“You develop lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging. That’s what I took away from Winston-Salem State.
“I recently drove to homecoming with Sahib [Abdul Khabir], who went to school with me back in the day, and my sister, Theresa, who also went to Winston-Salem for two years before transferring to Temple. When I went on the Winston-Salem campus, and I looked around and saw what a wonderful, sprawling and beautiful campus we had grown to be, I realized that the other schools I went by had nothing on us. It’s not the same little school with the one men’s and four women’s dormitories with eight or nine other buildings I remembered.
“It made me proud to come back for homecoming. That same thing is magnified for other HBCU alumni. We go back to see how we’ve grown.
“[Cuts in funding] have put HBCUs in a precarious position. It seems as though attendance might be off, but the name of the game is the experience and the education that you get. We have to work through leadership, to work through budget cuts that change and affect everything; about half of the HBCUs are struggling.
“When coach [Clarence “Big House”] Gaines was coaching, even then he said of the top 200 black players in the country, none were going to historically black institutions. We need to gain students’ confidence to come somewhere they feel they belong.
“One thing about major universities, they [the alumni] give back and they have to be answered to. The alumni aren’t just alumni, they’re the backbone of the university. The giveback is not what it should be in HBCUs. We need to not only support our schools but to show support for them as well.
“Black colleges produce more black professionals on smaller budgets and worse facilities than white schools. We maintain the idea of overcoming. We’re not used to working with excess money. So if we’re talking about cutbacks, that means that we’re not growing, not to mention the competition drawing students away. But these are business centers. They need to act like business centers. They need to implement strong leadership, strive for higher standards, and re-evaluate their missions and messages to the public. We’ve given much; now we need to give back.”
“Historically black colleges go far beyond just representing and being good for the African-American community. They are good for all of America and they are good for all of the world. Whether we’re talking about doctors or scientists or researchers or politicians, HBCUs have produced some of the greatest minds that this country and that this world has known. That story must be progressively and actively communicated so that folks who are making choices about where they want their kids to go understand the incredible value of which they have, that they have been and that they continue to be.
“Anyone who would say that HBCUs are not relevant truly don’t understand the dynamics in America today. They don’t understand the history of HBCUs beyond just being educational reservoirs. HBCUs have been laboratories of love. When your child steps on campus and sees others that look like him or her, when they see professors, administrators, the [university] president and the board of trustees, it gives a sense of identity that, frankly, you cannot get at another institution.
“I am not saying that HBCUs should be your only option, but I’m telling you it should [get] serious consideration because there is a value that is inherent in the attendance of an HBCU that is far beyond the books, far beyond the classroom. It helps you identify who you really are. [HBCUs] don’t just teach you how to make a living; they teach you how to live.”
“You have to make sure that you have innovation. Obviously, you have to make sure you have a quality product and you have to make sure that you’re able to align yourself with folks who’re investing. And that’s not only from a fiscal perspective, people who are investing fiscal capital, but what other types of resources are being attached to the institutions. So the larger institutions that have reputations that are helpful, like a Howard, a Morehouse, a Spelman, a Hampton, they have people who are attaching themselves to those institutions. And the things that those institutions can do, quite honestly, is attach themselves to those historically black colleges and institutions that we know are valuable but might not have the recognition that others might.
“Again, the thing that I look at is that we’ve been thriving, you know, and it just depends on how it is that we’re looking at it. If we’re looking at how it is that we’re developing moral character and leadership for a nation, not just for black folks but for a nation by understanding our own lived experience and ensuring that other people don’t have to go through the marginalization that we’ve [endured], that is thriving and it’s providing. It’s providing leadership in a much-needed moral and ethical compass for not only the country but for the world community. That’s what these colleges and these universities provide.”
“I just think we have that don’t-give-up attitude (laughs), to be honest with you. We know things are going to be a little difficult. There’s going to be some hard times and some adversity, but we learn to stick together as a group and we fight through it. I had the opportunity to go back to Mississippi Valley State last year — they named a building after [Mississippi Valley State coach] Archie Cooley — and just to be back on that campus again, to show my face and let the kids know that, ‘Yes, I came from this very small, predominantly black school, and you can be successful in life too.’ I think it’s up to the guys who’ve moved on who’ve [achieved] some success in life or in the NFL to go back and let these kids know that they can do the same thing.”
“We need to do more of what we’ve done, particularly at Florida A&M University over the last 131 years, and we need more support from all of the people, like those in attendance [at homecoming], to support their alma mater and open doors for them so that the students who come up behind them can follow.”
“No. 1 would be to be flexible. No. 2 would be to tell our story. And No. 3 would be to aggressively seek external funding opportunities, beginning with internal generosity … within the school.
“So when I became president, you know I probably historically am the first president that started and had to open a convocation all at the same day. And when I did that right off the bat, I pledged $50,000 to this institution and asked that my administration, my cabinet and everyone do the same. And so when we give and we show people that we’re giving, when our alumni gives and we’re accountable to that giving, then we can ask externals to give and point to those things that we have done to help ourselves, and so I think it’s so important. And listen, we had an inauguration during the week of our Labor Day Classic because I told them that I wanted to make it again about ‘communiveristy.’ So I challenged my development office to make all of the events where the community too could participate.
“So I think setting the tone and setting the culture for giving because those external funds, we can’t totally depend on those things that are appropriated to us. We have to aggressively seek external funding through donations, but we also in conjunction with that third one, is develop mutual partnerships. Mutual and beneficial partnerships with external organizations, federal agencies, state agencies to help continue to advance the missions of the institution.”
“It has become increasingly clear that the sustainability of HBCUs are a critical component in an equation to ensure the future success of our nation. However, for these dynamic institutions to survive and thrive, the federal government must create a strategy with intentionality to provide long-term funding of the same magnitude that PWIs [predominantly white institutions] are funded. HBCUs have been grossly underfunded, which has a trickle-down effect, including challenges in attracting and retaining the best students, a shortage of top-tier professors and a lack of access to advanced technology and resources that will be needed for graduates to be competitive in the job market with their peers from PWIs. Furthermore, academic offerings must include the most up-to-date content to keep pace with the ever-changing market trends so that graduates are prepared to be competitive in the current and future landscape.”
“HBCU graduates need to be unapologetic in our praise for the institutions that we come from. You learn a lot: the camaraderie, the chemistry, the family atmosphere — that’s incredibly important. There is something to be said about being amongst an abundance of individuals who face the same challenges as you.
“And, we have to make sure that everything that we do is relatable to the real world. You don’t live in a bubble. You don’t find yourself being in the situation where you get to do what you want to do, how you want to do it, with whomever you please, completely oblivious to what’s going on in the real world. Real-world issues and challenges have to be brought to the forefront for HBCUs to survive and thrive because if you have a situation where you are able to point to things that are relatable to the real world, that’s how you are truly educating and preparing our youth to be ready for the challenges that will inevitably come their way.
“The challenges never stop. We know where we come from. We know what that uphill battle entails. But in order [for us] to propel a future generation of individuals, we have to make sure that we adapt to the times, that we educate as best as we possibly can. And more importantly to be about the business of accountability.”
“I never thought about how can Paul Quinn or other HBCUs survive. To have a conversation about survival is to focus in the wrong places. What I always thought about is how can we become great. How can we become one of America’s great small colleges. The reality is you become great by addressing issues of the day. What HBCUs should always do is answer the calls and the cries of the community we serve. When you do that, when you speak to the explicit needs that you have, there’s never a question as to whether or not you should survive, because you are demonstrating a value to those who need you the most. That’s what we were founded to do.
“The way we at Paul Quinn look at our institution right now, we think the greatest problem facing the communities we serve is poverty. As an educational institution, we are going to dedicate ourselves to the eradication of poverty. More than 70 percent of students at HBCUs are on the Pell Grant (72 percent as of 2015), which means they come from poverty. If you look at the issues we are dealing with, they are poverty-driven issues. When you speak to those things that people need, and you actually address those needs, I don’t think you have to worry about how you thrive going forward. You will thrive because you are providing a service that people need.
“We started out doing the [farm]. What’s the real issue? Poverty. We talk about unpreparedness of students. What causes that to a great extent? Poverty. The cost of education is too expensive for a lot of people. What causes that? Poverty. When you start going down the line, you realize — hmm — poverty is the issue.”
“Well, first of all I think we have to think about our students and the population of students that we are serving. We are no longer serving a local population. We are serving more of a diverse population. I also think we have to build on the successes of our institutions. We’ve been successful in taking … first-generation students, low-income students and students that have been marginal academically and graduate them at unprecedented rates.
“We’ve done that over the years. Claflin University has done that for 150 years. I think HBCUs have to continue to focus on access and success. We also have to continue to be entrepreneurs in terms of how we think about revenue streams for our institutions, moving beyond just tuition, but engaging in fundraising and learning how to bring more sponsors and partners to our institutions. How to use the research that our faculty is doing and also with patents, how to bring about collaborations for institutions. We have to be able to deliver education differently today to the populations that are all over in many places any time; getting into the online space is where I believe HBCUs need to move.
“I think we are going to need to move away from the traditional to being nontraditional. Keep the focus but also understand how we are able to serve a more diverse population from around the world.”
“I think it goes back to our alumni base. We understand the sweat and tears of a student [because] we’ve been there and know how hard it is to make it through. We have to take a different approach in order for our schools to survive, and we just have to give back more. As alumni, we’re in a position now where we have a lot of alums who are doing fine and making good money, but they only go back [to their schools] for homecoming; they’re not concentrating on the day-to-day operations of the university. It starts with us, as an alum, to restore our universities by giving back, by growing that support and by literally giving those kids a hand. We remember move-in day as a freshman; go back and give a hand to support those kids and let those kids understand [that] you know and understand how things are.”
“Well, to me it’s simple. Go back to the basics. The sole purpose of HBCUs was to enlighten and enrich the minds of African-American men and women so they could be independent thinkers. As a graduate of Howard University, that’s what being on The Yard taught me, and also to realize that beyond all expectations, anything and everything was possible.
“How do you thrive? Promote the good things that the HBCUs do. If you’ve got an engineering program that’s one of the tops in the country, we all need to know about it. And you also must invest in your program, not only with your mental capacity but with your resources as well.”
“HBCUs will thrive because of their partnerships with corporations and research institutions, the support they provide to students, the experts they are producing. Major corporations come to HBCUs, not majority[-white] schools, to find talented black students to hire.
“Additionally, HBCUs graduate more black students in STEM, pharmacy, biology and medical fields than majority[-white] institutions. The nation needs more people in these fields. They do so, in part, because the faculty look like the students and are able to give more personalized attention when necessary.”
“That’s a question for the alumni. They need to give the money. We need to give the money. We need to keep the promotion up. We need to show men and women that it’s OK to get an education from HBCUs. We need to support one another too. I know we get the rivalry. Did you go to Howard? I went to Morehouse. We’re all in this together. But I think we can start with the alumni. And donating and building up. I like the sports programs too. Personally I’d like to see them build up more of the sports programs and televising the sports programs. Getting it out there a little better. But I ain’t got the answers for you. I think that’s where I would start, is the alumni.”
“I remember so vividly what Coach [Eddie Robinson] used to tell us all the time, that [HBCUs] have done so much with so little, we could almost do anything without nothing. That’s what HBCUs have done. It found a way to survive, and they’re here for a reason. If HBCUs had not been here years ago, guys like myself and a lot of other guys wouldn’t be in the places that we are today. That’s one of the reasons why we’re still here, [and] a lot of people realize they are significant. So, at the end of the day, I wish America would get on the same bus that most of the HBCUs are on and realize that every kid in America don’t have the ways and the means to go to the bigger institutions. It doesn’t mean that they can’t learn, because the Gramblings, Southerns, Howards and Hamptons of the world are prime examples we have to uphold.
“That’s unfortunate people would say that [HBCUs are no longer relevant], they’re right. At one time, [African-American players] didn’t have any choice but to go to an HBCU. Now [players] do have choices, but not everyone has those choices. HBCUs give so much. And it’s not about going against the other institutions. At HBCUs, you get some love, you get some people who put their arms around you and let you understand that it’s important that you get your education. I think that’s what HBCUs have done to a lot of young African-Americans; it lets them know that you need this to go out into the world, to be able to survive.”
“Higher education is rapidly transforming itself, and HBCUs must transform themselves or else we will be left behind. So we can no longer concentrate on what the institutions have been, but we have to understand what the opportunities are going forward and not be hesitant about transforming everything about the institution.
“We have to look at niche programming. No institution can be No. 1 in everything, but I think every institution can be No. 1 in something. We have to identify on our campuses what we are absolutely better at than every other institutions. We have to market that, we have to brand that, and we have to own that.
“The largest growth population in the country right now is 25-55. While many of our institutions are very traditional.so we have to quickly transform our campuses to where we can be more competitive for the student population that is nontraditional. While we are focused on 18- to 22-year-olds, we are going to have to shift a portion of that to concentrate on what is the largest growth population with our college degrees in the country, 25-55.”
“It boils down to this: opportunity. Students from HBCUs just need opportunity. Right now in my field, in public relations, professional sports, you have at least half a dozen brothers and sisters that actually went to HBCUs and they were grown at HBCUs, and it’s basically like a family. I can speak from when I was a student. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket to go to San Diego for my interview and I don’t know how he found out, but the dean of the communications department brought me into his office and handed me a plane ticket and said, ‘You worked too hard to make something like this stop you from fulfilling your dreams.’ That’s black colleges, folks. I went to the placement office — and Robert Jones, I still thank you every day — he took me to the Galleria and bought me a suit and then scheduled three consecutive days of mock interviews to prepare for my interview. That’s HBCUs: going above and beyond for their students, caring about their students, letting them know, ‘Hey, this is nurturing. This is about family.’ I wouldn’t be where I am, being a senior vice president with the Washington Redskins, if it wasn’t for what happened at Texas Southern University.
“I would say about [HBCUs not being relevant] that’s hogwash because I’m living proof, as well as other people among my friends. It’s definitely relevant because you wouldn’t be … I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for my school. And I’m telling you that because of the nurturing, they taught me things that weren’t in books. They taught me about life, they taught me how to survive in this world, and they gave me the confidence to do it. So whoever thinks that HBCUs are irrelevant, I’ll tell them they’re a fool.”