National Historically Black Colleges and Universities plan expansion

Today wraps up National Historically Black Colleges and Universities Week — an appreciation of minority schools and their contributions to local communities.

But compared to non minority-serving institutions, HBCUs across the country continue to lag in graduation rates and receive less funding.

A 2010 report published by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated that HBCUs’ average graduation rate is 55 percent, compared to 63 percent for non-HBCU schools.

In a 2011 survey by the Society for College and University Planning, presidents of HBCUs said the most important issues facing their institutions are student retention and graduation rates, financial aid and needed facility renovations.

Nancy Young, spokeswoman at Winston-Salem State University, said HBCUs are still trying to catch up from historical inequities.

“It’s an uneven playing field, because predominately white institutions are able to offer more than the underfunded HBCUs,” she said.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded 10 historically black colleges and universities in the state more than $29 million last week.

Young said the money was “desperately needed.”

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have led a Senate resolution for HBCU week for the past three years.

“I am so proud that North Carolina is home to 10 outstanding HBCUs that are providing excellent academic instruction to our future leaders,” Hagan said in a recent statement.

Elizabeth City State University Chancellor Willie Gilchrist said in an email that HBCUs in North Carolina provide major benefits to local communities.

“We prepare students in various disciplines to return to their communities and assist in raising the level of education in those communities,” Gilchrist said.

But Jay Schalin, director of state policy analysis at the conservative-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said he was skeptical of public HBCUs.

“With public HBCUs, I really wonder whether it is appropriate for governments to favor a race like that,” he said.

He said he doesn’t see an issue with private HBCUs, but those that are suffering financially should consider combining with other HBCUs.

“It makes perfect sense for Shaw (University) and St. Augustine’s (University) in Raleigh to sort of join forces and give themselves a stronger student population and a stronger economic base,” Schalin said.

But Shaw University spokeswoman Odessa Hines said admissions rates are increasing, and Shaw is fiscally sound.

“I think (Shaw and St. Augustine’s) are equally viable universities that stand alone on their own,” Hines said.

Hines said that though HBCUs might face a number of challenges, they will continue to expand.

“There are challenges that still exist for HBCUs, but I think we’ll always be able to stand firm to our principles and be able to, for example, educate that first-generation college student,” she said.

Staff writer Lucinda Shen contributed reporting.

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