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Guest Column

Historically Black Colleges and Universities are a strategic investment

Historic marker of Spelman College:

Historic marker of Spelman College: (Credit: National Alumnae Association of Spelman College)

By Guest Columnist JUSTINE BOYD, UNCF’s regional development director in Atlanta

Education is being called by many the civil rights issue of today.

“We are a country lurching backwards on the issue of education,”said Freedom Summer organizer Bob Moses, who is known for leading the historic voter registration drive in Mississippi in the 1960s.

Indeed, African-Americans still face huge challenges in terms of accessing and receiving a post-secondary education degree. Moses pointed out that its poorest students are still being taught a “sharecropper’s education” — meaning children from low-income families learn only enough to allow them to do low-income jobs.

“Unfortunately, that is still the case,” Moses said.

Justine Boyd UNCF

Justine Boyd

As I begin my new tenure with UNCF, I could not be in a better space that will have greater impact than helping students gain access and completing college.

This work is an investment in the future. Students who finish college will have higher earnings, experience better health, will be more economically independent, and will be less likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.

These graduates will pay more in taxes and use fewer government health and human services; and firms will have access to a more skilled workforce.

Yet, many students cannot make this investment by themselves – they have fewer educational opportunities beyond high school and limited financial resources or family support to pay for college.

Supporting UNCF is an investment fund that helps students’ complete college while yielding high return to its investors. These returns include not just the extra earnings of college graduates but also the full social and fiscal benefits of having more citizens with a college education in the workforce. Counting all these benefits is the best way to evaluate social investment.

I am often asked what is the relevance in today’s world of UNCF’s 37 member institutions. Since their founding in the mid- to late-1800s, private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) – like those that are UNCF member schools – have served the education needs of students not well-served by other higher-education institutions.  HBCUs out-perform other institutions when it comes to graduating students from low-income families — most are the first in their families to attend college, and they are high-achievers with high aspirations.

A 2013 National Science Foundation study, for example, found that 10 HBCUs were among the top 11 colleges in producing African-American undergraduates who went on to earn doctoral degrees in science and engineering.

Research also shows that UNCF-member HBCUs offer lower tuition—an average of 30 percent lower— than comparable institutions.

With these advantages, it’s not surprising that more students graduate from UNCF-member HBCUs today than in 1972, the first year of our nationally recognized slogan “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”® was used.

Atlanta has much at stake when it comes to HBCUs because of its cluster of institutions at the Atlanta University Center, including such nationally-renowned institutions as Spelman University and Morehouse College.

About UNCF: 

UNCF, formerly known as the United Negro College Fund, is the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization.

Since its founding in 1944, UNCF has raised more than $4 billion to help more than 400,000 students receive college degrees at UNCF-member institutions and with UNCF scholarships.

UNCF gets results:

  • UNCF’s 37 member institutions educate more than 60,000 students each year at tuitions averaging 30 percent less than those charged by comparable institutions. Research shows that HBCUs out-perform many larger and better-funded schools at graduating low-income students—the students the country most needs to have college degrees.
  • UNCF Scholarship Programs increase the likelihood that students will graduate. African American recipients of UNCF scholarships have a 70 percent six-year graduation rate, 10 percentage points higher than the national average, and 30 percent higher than the average for all African Americans.
  • A $5,000 UNCF scholarship increases by seven percent the likelihood that its recipient will graduate from college. The low-income minority recipients of Gates Millennium Scholarships, a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have average graduation rates of 90 percent.

Celebrating an Atlanta Holiday Tradition…..

The public is cordially invited to join the Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and 2014 Ball Co-chairs, Ed. Baker, publisher of the Atlanta Business Chronicle; Erica Qualls-Battey, general manager – Atlanta Marriott Marquis; Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. – president of TWD, Inc. and numerous celebrities, business, political and civic leaders in support of the 31st Annual Mayor’s Masked Ball on Saturday, Dec. 20 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis featuring10-time Grammy Winner Chaka Khan.

As a community that is committed to young people receiving a first in class education, this annual holiday fundraising event supports the work UNCF does throughout the city in ensuring that every young person has access to a quality education and can get the financial support that they need to successfully move to and through college.

To find out more about this exciting and impactful holiday gala, or to confirm your support, please contact us 404-302-8623.


  1. atlman December 19, 2014 5:46 pm

    Before anyone invests in HBCUs, they need to invest in themselves. They need to hire competent, capable administrators and staff instead of being run as a jobs program for the friends, family members and graduates of those institutions that lack the initiative or competence to find employment elsewhere. The assistant manager of a fast food franchise or gas station would do a better job than many of the HBCU administrators, and the staff that they hire is even worse.
    Another thing: HBCUs need to reinvent themselves. Meaningful integration changed their market conditions, so they need to change their business model to adapt. Stop offering a broad range of liberal arts programs, and instead focus on areas of high economic need and programs that will lead to academic success for people that are the first in their family line to attend college. Stop accepting high school graduates of our increasingly dysfunctional urban and rural school systems (especially since the best of those attend majority white schools) by raising minimum admissions standards for high school graduates and instead target junior college transfers, vocational school graduates, military veterans, professionals, career changers etc. so you will get an older, more mature population that is far more likely to graduate and be able to pay for their own education (or get their employers to pay). That way HBCUs could still play a vital role in aiding economic mobility in the black community, but not at the cost of 75% attrition rates and very high student loan default rates that plague so many black colleges. Basically, black colleges need to let community colleges, the military, trade schools and the workforce do what most high schools fail to do: screen the responsible people with discipline and initiative from the rest. If you are a black kid with a high school diploma who wants to go to college: fine accept them if they have the credentials to get accepted at a comparable white college or university. Otherwise, you will need an associate’s degree from a community college, a certification from a vocational school, 4 years in the military, or several years of continuous work history AND A GOOD CREDIT RATING to get accepted. 
    Black colleges need to be in the business of getting degrees in accounting or business administration to people who are already employed in retail, or giving bachelor’s degrees in STEM or health care to people that are already working entry level positions in those jobs (likely due to having completed a certification program at a trade school) instead of going broke and closing their doors failing to educate people who are not college material (because in 80% of cases if they were, they would not be at HBCUs in the first place). 
    Of course, this does not apply to all HBCUs. But note that healthy HBCUs like Spelman, Morehouse, North Carolina A&T have capable administrators and competitive admissions instead of open or nearly open admissions. Those are the ones that will survive, and the rest will disappear within 20 years, and as well they should.Report


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