Advocate Hopes to Use International Experience to Build HBCU Capacity

Dr. Boyce C. Williams had already secured her legacy as an advocate for Black colleges and African-American teachers when she accepted a new position last month at the National Association for Equal Opportunity and Higher Education.

The former vice president for institutional relations at the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Williams helped develop a strategy that doubled by 2001 the number of education programs at historically Black colleges and universities that pursued or earned accreditation, up from 40 percent of those programs in 1991.

After nearly two decades of providing quality teacher instruction to departments and colleges seeking accreditation, Williams has a new task: helping HBCUs secure a place in the 21st century.

As the newly appointed senior vice president and chief of staff for NAFEO, Williams is forging stronger relationships between HBCUs and colleges and universities in the Middle East while improving accreditation inadequacies for both groups.

DI: What prompted your departure from NCATE after nearly 16 years of service?

BW: I spent almost 15 months in 11 different countries. When I returned to Washington, I knew that I couldn’t go back [to NCATE]. Outside of Egypt and Jordan, the whole concept of education and literacy is new. These people have been desert people for generations. The oil and the money are only about 30 years old. In order to compete on the world stage, they have to be educated. That, to me, hearkens back to what it must have been like when HBCUs were founded. At some point we began to build capacity and infrastructure for ourselves. That’s what they are doing. I’m a product of an HBCU, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. I feel like I have been blessed to have come full circle.

DI: You traveled throughout the Middle East studying the readiness of those nations to pursue NCATE accreditation. Has that work been concluded?

BW: The work had been commissioned for another two years. The Saudis were ready to fund it, as were the Kuwaitis. But I wasn’t sure if NCATE was in a position to really carry out what needed to be done with the limited staff and resources. We [didn’t] have the personnel to devote to this. I can’t half step. I cannot be over there, by myself, traveling from one country to the next, in the name of NCATE, knowing that NCATE is in the U.S., and they don’t know exactly what I’m doing. That’s not fair to them.

DI: Now that you’re at NAFEO, what role will you play? Do you see yourself as liaison between HBCUs and universities in the Middle East?

BW: In our mission statement, we talk about being that international voice. I’m hoping that I’ve built some alliances abroad. I’ve been invited next November to be the international keynote speaker for an education conference in Jordan. They know I’m not at NCATE anymore. It doesn’t matter. I asked them to think about a day where [we] could invite presidents from the Middle East to come and hear from the chairman of NAFEO’s board and [NAFEO’s executive director] Lezli Baskerville. They are entertaining that. I see a distinct role for our presidents in terms of networking and mentoring presidents in the Middle East. When we study abroad and when there are Fulbrights they should be choosing to go over there. Their students should be choosing HBCUs. 

DI: Give me an example of an area where HBCUs need to be making a larger investment?

BW: Data. How we collect data, how we use the data to make decisions about teaching and learning and running our institutions. This is a data-driven [industry]. We have institutions that have done an exceptional job [with data]. We use them in our presentations. Hampton University is one. Tennessee State University is one. So we have asked them to share with us their best practices. If you don’t have the capacity and the infrastructure [to collect data], it begs the question by lawmakers, why do you need to be there?

DI: What’s on the horizon for NAFEO?

BW: We can’t lose sight of the advocacy piece that we play for our institutions because they are struggling. We have a partnership with Wal-Mart, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to improve student retention and graduation rates. We just finished reviewing applications from about 20 institutions that want to be mentor institutions. They have programs in place to mentor other institutions toward retention of their students. We’ll do a [request for proposal]  among the three organizations for institutions to be protégés.

The agenda of NAFEO can remain the same; however, the pathways to actualizing the goals and objectives embedded in the constitution have to be open and welcoming.