This past week, I participated in the Salzburg Global Seminars, which have taken place in Salzburg, Austria, since 1947. The seminar’s theme is “Optimizing Talent – Closing Education and Social Mobility Gaps Worldwide.” One of the participants in the seminar is Gilbert Rochon, the president of Tuskegee University. Although the seminar is focused on countries across the world (e.g., Russia, Korea, South Africa, England, Brazil, and the United States) and many of the participants were not familiar with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Rochon inserted many comments and examples related to the contributions and successes of HBCUs into the seminar conversations.
I interviewed Rochon and asked him about the role that HBCUs play in terms of alleviating inequities. In his opinion, HBCUs advance equity in three significant ways.
First, they enroll low-income, first-generation, and often underprepared African American students and add immense value to their lives, giving opportunity when many other institutions do not.
Second, HBCUs involve students in hands-on undergraduate research, working directly with faculty members. These mentoring/apprenticeship relationships lead to increased participation in the graduate and professional programs. For example, HBCUs are the number-one producers of Black architects, veterinarians, and African Americans who pursue medical degrees.
And, lastly, they help the United States meet its STEM mission by producing 23 percent of Blacks in the sciences—a disproportionate number given that HBCUs only make up 3 percent of American colleges and universities.
Rochon also pointed out that 85 percent of HBCU students are on some type of financial aid, demonstrating these institutions’ commitment to educating, serving, and empowering low-income students. He also pushed back at critics of HBCUs that claim that these institutions are not playing a significant role.
Rochon highlighted an article in the Washington Monthly that evaluated colleges and universities based on students’ anticipated graduation rates and institutions’ ability to exceed that rate; HBCUs fare well on this evaluation. This evaluation system, he says, is much more equitable in that it takes into account students that are low-income, Pell grant eligible, first generation, and often underprepared. It also tracks an institution’s ability to increase social mobility and its involvement in the community.
I am glad that Gilbert Rochon was at this seminar in that people around the world need to know more about the contributions of HBCUs, especially their efforts to combat inequity. All too often only the most elite institutions garner attention outside the United States. It is time for other countries that want to add value to their students’ lives to look to HBCUs as role models. Conversation across international lines will not only inform others but they will strengthen HBCUs by bringing new ideas and opportunities their way.