Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Talking Points: George Curry on the Need to Preserve HBCUs

November 23rd, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

George Curry (b. 1947)


According to the National Center for Education and the Economy, by the year 2020, the United States will need 14 million more college-trained workers than it will produce. Considering the record of HBCU’s, we should be asking how we can make sure they’re around at least another century.

The National Center for Education Statistics report that although Black colleges represent only 3 percent of the nation’s universities, they produce 23.6 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Blacks.

The numbers are even larger in the physical, mathematical, biological and agricultural sciences, where HBCU’s account for more than 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans. HBCU’s confer 13.1 percent of master’s degrees earned by African-Americans and 10.6 percent of all doctoral degrees.

Not only are Black colleges still needed, they are indispensable.

–George Curry, Knoxville College alum and Chairman of the Board of Trustees, in The Hudson Valley Press Online, November 19, 2008.


If there’s one thing that state campaigns against affirmative action have taught me, it’s that many people in the U.S. continue to think of college education as a reward for all-around academic fitness. This type of thinking is based on a scarcity model of higher education, in which there are only limited spaces open for college aspirants, and that a rigorous admissions process will insure that only the strongest, most worthy students will be granted access to those slots.

This thinking is not entirely unfounded. Not every college has open admissions, and at those institutions, admissions officers work hard to figure out which of the many applicants will be the best fit for their college or university.

For the first couple centuries of higher education in the U.S., the fact that there were only a small number of post-secondary institutions insured that only a small population of Americans would be able to attend college. As in most cases when a desirable commodity is in limited supply, only the wealthiest people from the most powerful families had access to higher education. A college degree was a luxury available only to the privileged few.

Today this perception continues to shape Americans’ attitudes toward post-secondary education. College is still considered a luxury, or at least an option that is primarily of interest to and appropriate members of the cultural and economic elite. This thinking, however, fails to reflect the reality of higher education today. College is for anyone who 1) chooses to pursue it and 2) wishes to have greater capacity for employment security, financial freedom, and economic and cultural self-determination.

Today Americans are going to college in greater numbers than ever before; and the U.S. sends a greater proportion of its citizens to college than any other nation in the world. This is fortunate and necessary. Greater numbers of Americans need college (to insure their access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), and the U.S. needs greater numbers of college graduates — to fill its steadily increasing numbers of highly-skilled and intellectually demanding positions and in order to insure its own continued self-determination, prosperity, viability, and stability as a nation).

As we become a greater and greater proportion of the U.S. population America’s racial and ethnic minority groups must have access to the same educational credentials and mastery of the same skills of critical thinking, reading, and writing and the same opportunities for upward mobility that have traditionally been the domain of a white cultural and economic elite.

Majority white colleges have not yet become very successful at educating people of color. African Americans, for example, graduate at a much lower rate than white people at the very same institutions, and often with much lower GPAs. Many elements contribute to this outcome, including cultural isolation, racism, alienation, and the lack of proper emotional, academic, and financial support. HBCUs, however, are expert, not only at graduating Black bachelor’s degree holders, but at producing grads who are well-prepared for the workplace as well as for post-baccalaureate study (graduate or professional school).

If the U.S. needs larger numbers of bachelor’s degree holders than the white population alone can provide — and it does — then the U.S. needs HBCUs. Their expertise at meeting the needs of Black students will insure that increasing numbers of African Americans become successful in the classroom, in the workplace, and as active and engaged citizens in our democracy.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Black Colleges, Black Students, Current Events, George Curry, Higher Education, race

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