The fact that you’re white, black, or brown in America is still a deciding factor in determining whether you are admitted to the college of your choice. In addition, to the blatant racism, other more subtle influencers determine minority admission, such as political affiliation. An IPR working paper found that African-Americans who mentioned or showed a political affiliation through participation in certain organizations received fewer responses from college admissions offices versus those who did not. On the other hand, political affiliation did not affect the response rate for white students. And the admission piece is only the first obstacle as most minorities cannot pay for college without taking on the heavy financial burden of student loans. Studies by The U.S. Department of Education show that Blacks and Hispanics are more likely to enroll at four-year colleges that have more meager endowments and community colleges simply because they are more affordable.
And although race still plays a significant role in admission policies, most Americans don't believe that it should. A Pew Research Center survey found that seventy-three percent of Americans believe that colleges and universities should not consider race or ethnicity when dealing with student admissions. Unfortunately, both unconscious and conscious bias remains a factor in the admission process. The origin of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) was to fight racism and to ensure that blacks had an opportunity to go to college at a time when most white institutions wouldn’t even consider allowing them to attend. Fortunately, HBCUs have made it possible for hundreds of thousands of black and other minority students to get a high-quality education despite the fact that they have been notoriously underfunded. While the average endowment per student for public colleges is $25,390, the average endowment for HBCU students is only $7,265.
Fortunately, there is finally significant investment coming from private philanthropists like MacKenzie Scott, who donated 150 million to a handful of HBCUs. And while that’s certainly a generous donation, the funding only positively impacted six of the most well-known HBCUs and comes at a time when there are ongoing rumors that government funding might be cut. For example, on October 6th, some Republicans and media outlets spread a misinformation campaign that Biden would cut HBCU funding from forty-five billion to just two billion. The administration immediately disputed that claim. They quickly released a fact sheet articulating their ongoing commitment to HBCUs and showing that the previously disseminated information had been false. That said, the initial budget that Biden presented for HBCUs was over 70 billion but was cut substantially in the negotiation process to secure House approval. However, the current bill before the Senate is still proposing more than 45 billion.
The Federal government must continue to support HBCUs as they provide a stable and nurturing environment for those most at risk of not entering or completing college: low-income, first-generation college students. While the nation’s 104 HBCUs make up just 3% of America’s colleges and universities, they produce almost 20% of all African American graduates and 25% of African American graduates in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. And HBCU tuition rates are on average almost 30% less than at comparable institutions — delivering higher returns at a lower cost.
In addition to the importance of HBCUs to our country overall, they are also crucial to critical constituencies. After all, the Democrats owe their Presidential election victory to the minority vote. That fact was not lost on Biden. He promised and delivered one of the most diverse cabinets in history, including several prominent HBCU graduates, including the Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Cedric Richmond, and the EPA administrator, Michael Regan. Vice President Kamala Harris is also an HBCU grad. Now let's hope that the rest of the Senate Democrats will remember that commitment and ensure that HBCUs can continue the vital work they have performed for over 100 years.
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