A Reputation Problem

Apparently America’s historically black colleges need to work to improve their images. According to an article an article by Eric Kelderman in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The nation’s historically black colleges are being challenged from within to overhaul their operations and image as they face outside pressures for more accountability.

The urgent calls for change were made at a two-day symposium capping the centennial celebration of North Carolina Central University, the nation’s first public liberal-arts institution for black students. College presidents, faculty members, and experts in the education of minority students said at the June event that historically black colleges must improve fund-raising strategies and student services, diversify their curricula, and adapt technologically. The goal, say leaders of black colleges, is a major transformation in how the American public, and especially high-performing potential students, view the institutions. The survival of the minority-serving institutions depends on their ability to change, said several speakers.

There are 105 historically black colleges in America. For the most part these used to be the only college opportunities for black students. Now these schools enroll a mere 12 percent of black undergraduates. The problem is that many Americans don’t really think of these schools as great institutions. Public black colleges often have severe funding problems. Private black colleges sometimes have management troubles. Both of these things create a dilemma for public relations.

“How much do we really believe in the HBCU experience?” said one participant, Elizabeth City State University’s Willie Gilchrist, pointing out that many professors at historically black colleges and universities send their own children to other types of schools for their education. This is a problem with reputation.

Well it’s also a real problem. Some historically black colleges (particularly women’s colleges) that do a wonderful job educating their students. Indeed, some evidence suggests that students in these schools actually perform better and are potentially more successful later in life than if they’d attended selective traditionally white colleges.

But then, this is not true of all black schools. The six-year graduation rate at historically black schools is less than 38 percent. Even the elite black schools, like Howard and Morehouse, have graduation rates of 53 and 58 percent, respectively. In this case, success isn’t really about improving their image; it’s more about improving their actual outcomes.

According to the Kelderman article, the institution with the highest number of black graduates in the country is the University of Phoenix.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer