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The Importance of Black Colleges

James Clingman

James Clingman

By James Clingman

Part I
The recent New York Times article, “Hard Times at Howard,” written by Charlayne Hunter-Gault was indeed riveting. It conjured up memories of October 15, 2003, when I sat in a Winston-Salem, N.C sanctuary and listened as 40 Black church leaders and Black college presidents publicly announced a self-empowering strategy to fund North Carolina’s 11 HBCUs. The name of that new organization was North Carolina Black Churches for North Carolina Black Colleges, or NCBC2.  Begun after a fundraising effort I started for Barber-Scotia College, the NCBC2 brought high hopes for HBCUs.

John Mendez, president of the Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, said, “There is no logic to having millions of so-called educated people (most from HBCU’s) and thousands of churches that have enlightened and saved millions of Black people, and yet we stand by and allow our colleges and universities to suffer and close their doors for financial reasons.”

Rev. William S. Fails, pastor of the Greater First United Baptist Church, and originator of NCBC2, added, “Judging by the fruits that our efforts bear, we would have to question the relevance of our own education and the role of the church in our community, if we do not immediately take steps to provide greater financial security for our … Black colleges and universities.”   Less than two years later, the effort ceased.

Why can’t we sustain economically-based movements?  Why don’t we get “fired up and ready to go” when it comes to helping one another with our dollars?  We see reports on the dire financial state of our HBCUs from time to time, but we seldom mount a sustainable effort to help them.  Howard University, having been at the pinnacle of HBCUs for many years, is now in the news for its financial challenges.

Let’s be clear, Howard is in no way “up against the wall,”  “drowning in debt,” “on its last leg,” or “about to go bankrupt.”  The state of Howard University is quite strong, to borrow a typical Washington D.C. phrase.  So please don’t sound a false alarm.  However, there are issues that affect all educational institutions to which Howard University is not immune, and they are part of its continuous improvement plan.

Here is some additional information about this venerable university that was founded in 1867.  In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education gave Howard a score of 2.8 out 3.0 for its financial responsibility.  Notwithstanding, Moody’s recent downgrade of Howard’s bonds, they remain investment grade.

Howard’s 2013 incoming class totaled more than 1,590, nearly 700 of whom are recipients of prestigious freshman scholarships and boast an average GPA of 3.5 and SAT scores of 1221.  Howard’s student body comprises young people from two dozen countries and 44 states.  Its youngest student is a 14 year-old from Gambia who received a Capstone scholarship that includes tuition, fees, and room for four years.

Impressed?  There are more positive data on Howard University and other HBCUs as well.  We should be proud of our schools of higher learning and we should support them with our time, talent, and treasure, to the greatest extent possible.  They certainly deserve our reciprocity for their outstanding contributions to our society.

Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site,

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