[Marxism] Obama’s Betrayal of Black colleges
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Mon Sep 26 06:14:54 MDT 2016
Chronicle of Higher Education, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016
Obama’s Betrayal of HBCUs
By Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
I attended Morehouse College in the 1980s. It was a heady time to be at
a historically black college. We were fighting for divestment from South
Africa and struggling against the consolidation of the Reagan
revolution. Racial politics were everywhere, and at Morehouse, I was
immersed in the diverse beauty and power of black culture.
My son, who came of age during the Obama years, now confronts, as I did
during my time at college, the ugliness of American racism. His
political consciousness has been shaped by the deaths of Michael Brown,
Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Alton Sterling, and too many others. But my son is
not at Morehouse, or any other HBCU. He attends Brown University.
The trend in my family is reflected nationally. In the 1970s, HBCUs
educated 75 to 85 percent of African-Americans. Today, according to the
Thurgood Marshall Fund, only 9 percent of black students in American
higher education attend an HBCU. Many HBCUs can barely keep their doors
Their decline is a complicated story, stretching back decades. It is a
tale both of greater inclusion of African-Americans at predominantly
white institutions, and of a broad economic and institutional crisis
engulfing black communities. The very institutions that once protected
black people from the headwinds of racism are collapsing, and the Great
Recession of 2008 quickened the pace. Important "free spaces," like
bookstores and community churches — where African-Americans can
cultivate civic virtues and a healthy self-regard — are contracting
because of the destabilizing effects of poverty. All of which has been
complicated, even more, by the general crisis in American higher education.
Yet the story would be incomplete if we didn’t confront a troubling
paradox: America’s first black president has accelerated the crisis
facing historically black colleges and universities.
"When white America has a cold," the old saying goes, "black America has
the flu." HBCUs have a severe case of the flu. The economic fallout from
the 2008 recession cracked the foundations of black America: more than
240,000 homes lost, skyrocketing levels of unemployment, and downward
mobility as families fell into poverty.
Colleges with small endowments found it difficult to hold on, leading to
furloughs of staff and faculty members and decreased enrollments (75
percent of HBCU students rely on Pell Grants, and 13 percent use Parent
Plus loans). Like predominantly white institutions, HBCUs, with already
strapped budgets, had to tighten their belts.
The election of President Obama, even amid this economic storm, brought
a moment of excitement. His administration expanded funding for Title
III Part B grants, which are aimed at predominantly black institutions.
The hopes of many HBCU leaders were lifted. "Then the wheels fell off,"
Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University, told me.
America's first black president has accelerated the crisis facing
historically black colleges and universities. In 2011 the Department of
Education changed the standards for Parent Plus Loans. Borrowers could
not have any loan accounts more than 90 days late, or any foreclosures
or defaults, a change that cost HBCUs tens of millions of dollars. The
United Negro College Fund reported that in 2012-13, "the number of
students attending HBCUs with Parent Plus loans dropped by 45 percent,
or more than 17,000 students." Four years later, the Department of
Education changed its policy, but for already cash-strapped
institutions, the damage was done.
Then, in 2015, Obama put forward a program for two years of free tuition
for qualified students at community colleges without apparent
consideration of the effect on HBCUs, who often compete for the same
students. Congressional intervention made sure that the free-tuition
provisions were expanded to include HBCUs and other minority-serving
institutions. It seemed as if the Obama administration held little, if
any, concern for black colleges.
In addition to the economic and political challenges, HBCUs face
increased competition. Elite colleges like Princeton, Harvard, and
Amherst offer generous financial-aid packages to high-achieving black
students, and HBCUs find it difficult to compete. Black faculty members
now have more options to work at all sorts of institutions. The
advantage that HBCUs once had — a captured population — no longer obtains.
On the face of it, more opportunities for black students at elite
colleges is something to celebrate, but the fact is that, even as HBCUs
lose top students and faculty to traditionally white institutions, they
outperform predominantly white institutions when it comes to producing
black success stories. Although only 9 percent of African-American
students attend HBCUs, they produce 35 percent of black lawyers and 50
percent of black engineers and teachers. That makes the crisis, and the
Obama administration’s indifference, all the more alarming.
What should be the role of HBCUs? There will be no return to the golden
years. The majority of black students will continue to learn at
predominantly white universities. And many HBCUs will continue to
recruit nonblack students — a quarter of historically black-serving
institutions have at least a 20 percent non-black student body. As these
numbers grow, will the HBCU still be a black college or university? What
will that mean?
Parts of the traditional function of HBCUs have moved elsewhere.
African-American-studies programs at predominantly white institutions
have taken on more importance as places for intellectual work on
questions of race. Those of us who inhabit these spaces must be aware of
that shift and the responsibility that comes with it. We must do the
serious work of thinking carefully about the challenges facing black
America and, by extension, the country. The Obama years did not
substantively change racial matters. In fact, they made this work all
the more necessary.
But African-American studies cannot take on the role of a "free space"
for black America. That would be silly. Departments, programs, and
centers are just islands on predominantly white campuses. It’s worth
noting that over the past year, as racially charged protests have taken
place at campuses across the country, HBCUs have seen a significant
uptick in enrollment. That’s because HBCUs, despite their challenges,
continue to demonstrate how important they are as "free spaces" for
young black Americans.
Recently my son said he was thinking about spending a semester at
another institution. He needed a break, even as Brown pledged $100
million to address campus racism. He mentioned Morehouse. He wanted to
be in a different, freer space — in "an environment that’s black," he
said. Irony abounds.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is a professor of religion and African-American
studies at Princeton University. He is the author, most recently, of
Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (Crown).
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