Investing in HBCU Leadership
Southern Education Foundation creates three-year initiative to facilitate HBCU accreditation
By Crystal L. Keels
Knoxville College, Morris Brown College and Barber Scotia College. These institutions are just some of the recent victims of lost accreditation — and there are others. Many historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs) have either teetered on the brink, suffered or closed entirely following the loss of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The effects of lost accreditation are amplified considering the current national context in which troubling questions often arise about the contemporary relevance of HBCUs.
Lynn Walker Huntley, president of the Southern Education Foundation Inc. (SEF), bristles at questions about the relevance of HBCUs.
“Many people look at the South that gave African Americans the short end of the stick. Now they think HBCUs are no longer needed because African Americans can go to White schools,” says Huntley. But she argues that HBCUs remain a vital part of the nation because “they are not the cause of problems; they are the solution.”
It is a fact, however, that several HBCUs are having problems with accreditation. So in efforts to prepare HBCU administrators to successfully meet SACS accreditation requirements, Huntley and Dr. Norman C. Francis, president of Xavier University in New Orleans and SEF chairman, laid the groundwork for an innovative endeavor. “Investing in HBCU Leadership” is designed to identify and address the technical and professional development needs of HBCU executives, a pressing issue of accreditation. Huntley explains that although it’s not specifically designed to address those institutions that have already lost accreditation, the program is a forward-looking “preventative effort to keep (other HBCUs) from walking down that path.”
Instituted in 1867 to provide educational opportunities for formerly enslaved African Americans, the Foundation continues to work toward ensuring equal access to quality education at all levels for people of color and disadvantaged groups in the South.
The SEF initiative, which was the result of eight months of assessments and surveys of HBCU presidents and other interested parties including donors, was right on time, especially as new SACS requirements, “Principles of Accreditation,” were introduced in January 2004. That development helped further shape the direction of the HBCU leadership program.
“We are trying to provide the information, the right resources and experts to give (HBCU leaders) a jump start,” says Dr. Tjuan Dogan, SEF program officer.
The three-year HBCU leadership program is funded by the Charles Stewart Mott and the Andrew Mellon foundations, which make it possible for SEF to disburse small grants — ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 — for special projects at HBCUs to meet various institutional needs. For example, if one institution requires a certain software program, and another needs a consultant to address financial issues and meet the financial stability measures SACS requires — all to help them move toward a reaffirmation review — those schools can apply for SEF grants.
“In addition to our mini grants, we are also providing study awards. For instance, we have offered study awards to selected presidents, accreditation liaisons and chief financial officers to attend the SACS annual meeting in December,” Dogan says. “We believe it’s very important that HBCU leaders have the financial assistance to attend and receive the SACS resources first hand.”
Another important element SEF considers essential for the success of its program is the collective aspect. In October 2003, HBCU accreditation liaisons, those HBCU institutional officers who have direct contact with SACS officials, were brought together by the Investment in HBCU Leadership program. They were exposed to experienced accreditation officials, provided a detailed explanation of their responsibilities as HBCU accreditation liaisons, given the opportunity to network and establish a forum to deal with future issues.
Dogan says the June 2004 Investment in HBCU Leadership program meeting focusing on financial issues and accreditation was a success. Out of 77 southern HBCUs, executives from 71 of those institutions met to discuss the financial measures and requirements of SACS’ new accreditation principles. Attendees participated in concentrated workshops held to deconstruct and design elements to help
HBCUs maintain their accreditation.
Dr. Emmett Ridley, director of institutional planning and assessment at Virginia State University and a SACS liaison who participated in the October 2003 and June 2004 meetings, says the benefits of the Investment in HBCU Leadership program are phenomenal.
The initial overview of the SACS requirements at the first meeting, the focus on SACS’s definition of what constitutes institutional financial solvency at the second meeting, and an upcoming meeting’s focus on institutional effectiveness, Ridley says, provide a tremendous service.
He points out that the presence of HBCU presidents, provosts, financial officers and SACS liaisons at those meetings made it possible for SEF to “effectively convey the critical importance of getting ready (for reaffirmation). Once top leadership understand and commit their energy to the process, everything else follows from there,”
He adds that taking advantage of the program is essential because schools can see what internal sacrifices are necessary for them to be successful in the accreditation process, especially in light of the 2004 SACS change. Often small private schools with limited resources lack the infrastructures necessary for compliance.
Huntley points out that the size of most HBCUs poses the same problems that other small schools face, but notes that cultural and historical factors also play a part in the struggle some HBCUs experience with accreditation. For example, HBCU endowments are generally not as large as other institutions, alumni financial support is not as strong as it could be and other private giving has not reached substantial levels, she says. In light of some of the high-profile donations some celebrities have contributed to HBCUs,
Huntley stresses that everyday working people can also make contributions.
“The classes of 1972 can get together,” Huntley proposes, and mentions some of the grass-roots efforts like the Tom Joyner Foundation.
Huntley also acknowledges the importance of collaboration not just among HBCU leaders but also with organizations such as the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). Dr. Michael Lomax, the new president and CEO of UNCF, was the keynote luncheon speaker at SEF’s June meeting.
“There is enough work for all of us,” Huntley concludes. “A new day is dawning. Strengthening ties is very important. A coalescence of interest and a desire to work together (will serve us) more effectively in the future.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com