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A Rich History

Texas HBCUs continue their mission of educating African-American students, while at the same time responding to the state’s changing demographics.

Huston-Tillotson University
President: Dr. Larry L. Earvin
Founded: 1952
Location: Austin

Huston-Tillotson University describes itself as a multicultural, multiethnic and multifaith institution,” but its historically Black university status “is still the core of our mission. That is what we will remain,” says university spokeswoman Linda Jackson.

The student body at the small college turned university is about 73 percent Black, but the Hispanic numbers are climbing. According to Jackson, a dedicated Hispanic student recruiter is in place, and Hispanic representation on campus has grown from 7 percent to 13 percent.

Jackson says students are drawn to HTU because of its small college feel and urban Austin location. But the school is growing. It transitioned from a college to a university in 2005, and its 10-year strategic plan includes expanding enrollment from its current 742 students to at least 1,200.

The university, affiliated with both the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ, has hired a national advertising agency for the first time in its 132-year history. And HTU’s new tag line now invites everyone to “Learn More!”

A large part of that learning, Jackson says, comes courtesy of the university’s cutting-edge technology.

“We consider ourselves one of the most wired HBCUs in Texas,” she says, pointing out that today’s students expect nothing less.
HTU is one of a handful of universities in the world using the Thunder Virtual Flip Chart, a large digital screen positioned in the front of a specially designed classroom. These new high-tech classrooms are outfitted with four projectors and a speaker system that can link the university with students and faculty at other institutions, including several Texas HBCUs.

Images and notes can also be scanned and projected onto the screens. And when classmates log onto the system, an alert sounds and an icon appears on the screen. An intricate speaker system allows the HBCU students and their professors to teach and talk with each other in real time, says Jackson of the six-month-old technology.

Paul Quinn College
President (interim): Michael Sorrell
Founded: 1872
Location: Dallas

In his 12-point online letter of welcome and warning to students, Paul Quinn College Interim President Michael Sorrell couldn’t have been clearer — “You will be attending a different school when you return in
the fall.”

In June, the college’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, put the small HBCU on probation for failing to meet a long list of standards in areas such as faculty competence, financial stability and student achievement.

The good news, Sorrell says, is that the college is still accredited and the “new” Paul Quinn is already taking shape. The 40-year-old former board member took over the helm of the school in May, and now Sorrell is poised to become Paul Quinn’s seventh president in three years.

His predecessor, Dr. John K. Waddell, resigned abruptly in February after just six months on the job.

“We’ve already addressed many of the deficiencies found by the commission’s review,” Sorrell says. “This is not the same school.”
He is adamant that Paul Quinn’s students be better prepared for the rigors of college and the workforce. And to help achieve that goal,
he’s promising “sweeping and comprehensive” changes for everyone associated with the university.

Among those changes is a much more rigid dress code. Good-bye jeans,
flip-flops and baggy pajama bottoms; hello business casual, at least during normal work hours from Monday through Thursday.

“While you are here on this campus, you are here for business,” Sorrell says. Students can, however, wear their fraternity or sorority colors or school paraphernalia on Fridays. Sorrell is busy collecting “gently used” items for a free campus clothes closet so that all students can comply with the new dress code.

In his letter, Sorrell said the college will offer fewer academic majors, but promises to strengthen the ones that remain. And the disciplinary code will be toughened. Starting this fall, students will be allowed to miss only two classes a semester before being penalized. Additional plans include extending library hours and improving the cafeteria and the bookstore. Sorrell also announced the elimination of the football team and on-campus summer classes to save money.

“We can’t be great,” says Sorrell, “by continuing to do the things that made us mediocre.”

Prairie View A&M University
President: Dr. George C. Wright
Founded: 1876
Location: Prairie View

Part of the Texas A&M University System, Prairie View A&M University
is the second-oldest public higher education institution in the state of Texas. And these days they have plenty to boast about.***image4:

To begin with, PVAMU has launched four doctoral programs in the past seven years — in clinical adolescent psychology, electrical engineering, juvenile justice and educational leadership.

And last spring, every one of its 31 College of Nursing graduates passed the nursing licensure examination.

“All of them passed the licensure exam on their first attempt, which is a remarkable fact,” College of Nursing Dean Betty Adams said in a statement. “Many of our students are often times people who have sacrificed a great deal to be in school.”

In addition to producing top nursing graduates, PVAMU has had a long history of producing engineers and educators. They also have an impressive track record of graduating Black students in the agricultural sciences. Continuing to build on this tradition, PVAMU’s Research Apprentice Program has been an excellent recruitment tool for the university to attract students interested in food science and agricultural research, says spokesperson Bryce Hairston Kennard.

In fact, in Diverse’s most recent Top 100 undergraduate rankings, PVAMU was No. 7 for graduating the most Black students in the agricultural sciences. They also ranked No. 6 and No. 11, respectively, for graduating the most Black students in engineering and in the health professions and related clinical sciences at the undergraduate level.

Earlier this summer, PVAMU welcomed 20 Texas high school juniors and seniors to campus to participate in the six-week RAP program.

“This program gives hands-on experiences in research, provides information about related career opportunities and exposes students
to a wide variety of developmental insights into science-based food and agricultural research,” says Dr. Alfred L. Parks, research director of the Cooperative Agricultural Research Center and founder of the RAP.

Last fall, the university opened the  $18 million College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology and the Texas Crime Prevention Center Building. The new facility will house the nation’s only Juvenile Justice doctoral program.
And most recently, PVAMU dedicated its Memorial Student Center in honor of alumnus and former interim university president, retired Army Col. Willie Albert Tempton Sr. (class of ’61). More than 200 people attended the dedication ceremony in July. Completed in 2003, the student center houses the university’s main dining hall, the campus bookstore and the president’s dining room.
Texas College
President: Billy C. Hawkins
Founded: 1894
Location: Tyler

If you find yourself in Tyler, a “nice, clean, wholesome, low-crime” city, turn off of Interstate 20 and “you will get to us … a 113-year-old institution that is surviving against the odds,” says Russell LeDay, vice president of institutional advancement at Texas College.

Billie Aaron, wife of baseball icon Hank Aaron, is a favorite daughter of Texas College, as are the two sisters of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Veteran actress Irma P. Hall, who played Big Mama in the hit movie “Soul Food,” is also among the college’s notable alums.

Texas College, founded by ministers of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, was one of the 27 private historically Black colleges originally organized under the United Negro College Fund in 1944. It’s a place where attendance at weekly chapel service is expected and where second chances are a way of life.

“The majority of students come from strong Christian backgrounds,” says LeDay, adding that the college offers single parents a chance to earn a degree while caring for their children.

“We want to help our young mothers and fathers,” he says, referring to the college’s Single Parent Program.

The program offers off-campus, apartment-style residence halls for single parents and their children, transportation to public schools and an on-campus nursery.

“Because we are a Christian college, we don’t want to give up on anyone,” says LeDay. And so while the college “preaches abstinence,” unmarried students who become pregnant aren’t in danger of being tossed out of school.

Texas College is also working on giving young Black men a helping hand. With a new grant from the United Negro College Fund, the college is working to significantly boost the percentage of Black males in college, and, specifically, on its campus. The college is hoping that two new majors — criminal justice and religious studies — will help lure young Black men into the classroom. Black men comprise 20 percent of the 800-student population. According to LeDay, the goal is to double that number.

The grant, LeDay explains, will allow the college to do targeted recruitment in urban areas in hopes of landing more Black male students. And the sports program is expected to play a role as well.

“We may not be able to help everybody,” LeDay says, “but we will try to reach as many as we can. It’s so important for African-American males to get an education.”

Texas Southern University
President (interim): Brig. Gen. (Ret.) J. Timothy Boddie Jr.
Founded: 1947
Location: Houston

As former Texas Southern University President Priscilla Slade prepares to stand trial Aug. 10 on charges of misspending  university funds on personal expenses, the embattled institution is working to heal its wounds.

“We have five new board members, an interim president, we were fully funded by the Legislature for the next two fiscal years and were allowed to establish a re-organization plan,” says Kimberly J. Williams, the university’s vice president of external relations and marketing. “We are out of the woods.”

For decades, TSU, the nation’s second-largest historically Black university, had been plagued by financial mismanagement, hampered by obsolete technology and challenged by dilapidated facilities. But Williams says these are the beginnings of the best of days for the university. J. Timothy Boddie Jr., a retired Air Force Brigadier General, took the helm as interim president in November 2006, following Slade’s ouster.

And despite the drama, several of TSU’s academic programs are earning high praise. The Jesse H. Jones School of Business will be named one of the nation’s best in the 2008 Princeton Review of Best Business Schools, and the university placed fifth in Diverse’s most recent Top 100 rankings of Black bachelor’s degree producers in math and statistics.

Established in 1947 by the Texas Legislature, the sprawling campus located near the heart of downtown Houston, was designated “a special purpose institution for urban programming.” Sixty years later, the university boasts new facilities and new academic offerings, including one of only a few doctorate programs that combine both urban planning and environmental policy.

TSU, one of two state-supported, open-enrollment institutions of higher education in Texas, also recently launched several new graduate and academic programs, including master’s and doctoral-level programs in administration of justice and an MBA with a concentration in health care administration. Starting next spring, TSU will offer one of the nation’s few degrees in entertainment education. 

TSU also houses the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, which U.S. News & World Report magazine recently named  the “most diverse law school in the nation.” In Diverse’s Top 100 graduate edition, the law school placed fourth in the number of Black law students it produced and seventh in the number of Hispanic students.

Wiley College
President: Dr. Haywood L. Strickland
Founded: 1873
Location: Marshall

Wiley College is in its 134th year and proudly bears the distinction as the oldest accredited historically Black college west of the Mississippi River. Soon, Wiley will be touting its star status and seeing its name in lights. Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios are teaming up to bring the story of Wiley’s legendary debate team to the silver screen in the film, “The Great Debaters,” which began production in May.

Washington will direct and star in the film, scheduled for release in 2008. “The Great Debaters” is based on the true story of Wiley professor Melvin B. Tolson, played by Washington. Tolson, a professor of speech and English and the coach of Wiley’s football team, formed the school’s first debate team, which went on to win the national championship by battling and defeating powerhouses Harvard University and the University of Southern California in 1935. Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker and Kimberly Elise are among the star-studded cast.

Among the members of Tolson’s debate team was civil rights leader James Farmer, who went on to found the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942. CORE became one of the first in the country to stage a sit-in. Farmer also led the first round of the Freedom Riders through the South in 1961. 

In 2006, U.S. News & World Report ranked Wiley among the nation’s “Best College Values.” The ranking came as no surprise to the college’s president, Dr. Haywood L. Strickland.

“We have always known that Wiley College is a premiere institution among historically Black colleges and universities,” he said in a statement following the announcement.

– B. Denise Hawkins

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