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HBCUs Are Needed Now More Than Ever

From the Daytona Times – June 4th by Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. (copy modified to add “y” to Cheyney University. http://www.daytonatimes.com/news/2009/0604/editorials/013.html

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May was college graduation month in America and with job prospects significantly weaker this year because of the downturn in the economy, one might expect the mood at commencements to have been somber at the nation’s struggling Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Fortunately, that is not the case, at least it is not what I saw when I delivered commencement addresses at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and North Carolina Central University last month. In spite of all the budget problems facing HBCUs and the career challenges facing their graduates, at commencement, hope and happiness ruled the day, as well they should.

Looking forward

Much of the optimism on our campuses stems from the fact that in these lean economic times, new college graduates understand that they have acquired a powerful competitive edge. Their job prospects have just become more numerous, their earning potential much higher, and their ability to build strong families and communities, much greater.

With African-Americans being hit hardest by the economic meltdown, earning a college degree is a critical goal in our communities. And it is one that the nation’s 105 HBCUs have been fulfilling for decades.

According to the United Negro College Fund, ”While the 105 HBCUs represent just three percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, they graduate nearly 20 percent of African-Americans who earn undergraduate degrees. Additionally, they graduate over 50 percent of African-American professionals, more than 50 percent of African-American public school teachers and 70 percent of African-American dentists.”

Critical role

When you add to those statistics the fact that these schools are more affordable and accessible to young people who may be the first in their families to go to college, you begin to see the indispensable role they play in Black America and for all America.

Some question the need for HBCUs in an era where racial barriers have fallen and African-Americans are no longer prevented from attending any college in America. But the pride on the faces of the parents and the joy of the graduates I met at Cheyney and North Carolina Central added a human dimension to something I already knew: HBCUs are needed and remain a critical part of both the fabric and empowerment of our communities and their importance is growing.

In the words of HBCU graduate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Morehouse ’48), ”The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically… Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of education.” That’s what our HBCUs do and it is why they are needed now more than ever.

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