THE ROLE OF HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES (HBCU’S)
By Paul Ndiho
Historically black U.S. colleges and universities like Morehouse and Howard are a familiar presence at the independence celebrations of several African countries. HBCU’s play a critical role in ensuring that African Americans, Africans and students of all races, receive a quality education.
Historically black U.S. colleges and universities produced many of the leaders from the civil rights era. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, Fisk University, Rev. Jesse Jackson, North Carolina A&T, Ambassador Andrew Young, Howard University and Congressman John Lewis also graduated from Fisk University.
But less is known about the immense contributions HBCU’s had in molding and developing leaders in the struggle for the independence of countries in Africa. This generation of leaders was very outspoken in advocating for the rights of Africans and in fighting for the independence of many new nations.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who became Nigeria’s first president in 1963, was a classmate of famed American poet Langston Hughes and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Prime Minister of Ghana, first African country to gain independence, graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Malawi’s first president, graduated from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee.
Today, there are over 100 historically black colleges and universities across America granting over 50,000 degrees to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds according to a Pew Research Study. VOA’s own Ndimyake Mwakalyelye, is a graduate of Howard University.
“Howard University gave me the foundation. I got my first degree there. It was a question of understanding what does it means to study, and what does it mean to be informed about the discipline and the area of choice that you’ve identified as your career path… It opened my eyes as well to the experience of black American culture, history of slavery, and how these historically black colleges to keep that memory flesh and it’s very integral.”
Many historically black institutions of higher learning, like Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Spelman College and Morehouse College in Atlanta and Howard University in Washington, DC are continuing to play a significant role in educating students and empowering the African American community. Attending any university is now a very expensive proposition. Terry Hartle, of the American Council on Education represents thousands of colleges and universities across the United States.
“It’s a terrible problem that we face as a country. We want more and more post-secondary education. We want more focus on academic quality and graduation. At the same time, the funding sources for higher education have been diminishing for a generation.”
For the past 30 years, college tuition in the U.S. has been rising at twice the rate of inflation — and private schools now charge an average of more than $30,000 a year. Earlier this year, billionaire American philanthropist Robert F. Smith pledged to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 Morehouse graduates. He says college should be affordable.
“We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus. My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
U.S. President Donald Trump is also supporting HBCU’s.
“I’m proud to say that my budget continues America’s commitment to helping HBCU’s improve their competitiveness, requesting more than half a billion dollars for HBCU focused programs. Further, the recent budget deal allows for the forgiveness of any outstanding loans owed under the HBCU.”
Historically black colleges and universities continue to be a major educational pipeline in preparing young people to serve in their chosen endeavors.