As a proud alumna of an HBCU, I know the power of attending a college that celebrates your identity and enriches you with pride and affirmation. When I think about that power now, I reflect back to a student I met several years ago who at the time was in the 10th grade. She was struggling to find her way in high school and risked an uncertain future.
Two years later, when she chose to attend Morgan State, my alma mater, we reconnected, and I was optimistic and excited for her that it would be the place where she could realize her potential.
As high school seniors begin the exciting, yet stressful, process of deciding which schools to apply to and which school to attend, it is important that we showcase to Black students the power and the potential that HBCUs offer.
Graduates of HBCUs have foundation-setting experiences that lead to success. About 40% of HBCU graduates report they are thriving financially, as compared with 29% of Black graduates from Predominantly White Institutions, according to a Gallup-Purdue University study. More than half of HBCU graduates strongly agreed that their college or university “prepared them well for life outside of college,” compared to less than 30% of non-HBCU black graduates, the study said.
And while HBCUs represent a tiny fraction of the colleges in the U.S., they graduate 40% of Black health professionals and engineers, 50% of Black lawyers and 80% of Black judges.
As the leader of my organization’s efforts to ensure our students stay in and graduate from college, I have made encouraging students to consider HBCUs as a higher education option
a one of the priorities of my work. At our 55 public charter schools that educate over 20,000 students, we name our classrooms after colleges, including HBCUs, and once our students are in high school, we make sure that HBCUs are a regular part of our college placement process. We encourage students to attend HBCU tours and HBCU college fairs, teach our students about the history of HBCUs and we invite our alum currently at HBCUs to come back and talk with our students about their experiences.
All of this has heightened our students’ interest in HBCUs. Nearly a third of our seniors apply to at least one HBCU every year. And while HBCUs represent only 3% of all colleges, our students' percentage of college applications was double that amount.
But what gets in the way of even more students accessing the game-changing power of HBCUs? It’s the structurally inequitable system that funds and supports HBCUs.
How does that affect my students? It’s simple. As counselors in this work, we help students find the college that they will fall in love with, cultivate their passions and dreams at, and actually graduate with a degree that will help them fulfill their own goals. None of this is possible if students enroll in a college that they ultimately can’t afford to stick with.
HBCUs simply do not have the resources to distribute merit-based scholarships the way predominantly white institutions can, and therein lies a structural inequality that needs to be dismantled.
Fortunately, President Biden and Congress appear to recognize this unmet need and the administration is proposing an unprecedented investment in HBCUs. While this year-over-year increase in funding would certainly be welcomed, we need the support and investments to become as permanent as other funding.
That permanence of funding will have a critical multi-generational effect on Black communities.
Consider this, fewer than 20% of our nation’s teachers are people of color, while half of public school children are. Meanwhile, studies show having at least one Black teacher in elementary school lowers the risk of dropping out by nearly 40% for Black boys from low-income backgrounds.
This leads us back to what happened to the young woman in the 10th grade whose future I became invested in.
That 10th grader is Alana Cooper.
Alana Cooper graduated from North Star Academy Washington Park High School in Newark, New Jersey.
Alana Cooper attended and graduated from Morgan State University, an HBCU.
Alana Cooper is now back at Uncommon in Newark, N.J., teaching 2nd grade.
Outside her door, she proudly displays the Morgan State University logo to help inspire the next generation of HBCU graduates.
Anna Taylor is the Senior Manager of College Access & Success – Alumni Support at Uncommon Schools