Obama Sends a Message to the Black Caucus

President Obama upset many members of the Congressional Black Caucus last Tuesday as he offered harsh criticisms towards historical black colleges and universities. This was the first group meeting that the president and the Black Caucus have had since 2013.

The focus of the meeting was based upon the future success of HBCUs. Obama mentioned that the focus of HBCUs should be directed toward schools changing their way of handling business rather than challenging federal policy. The president continued to state that the major downfall upon HBCUs is low graduation rates and failing loan policies. If these institutions do not show improvement soon they would eventually get phased out.

 The sudden news about South Carolina State University being shut down for at least a year is one of many HBCUs worst nightmares. Professors on the campus of Florida A&M University continue to remain optimistic about the future success of HBCUs.

Political science professor Christopher Daniels said HBCUs will survive despite the new community college plan.

“It's hard to measure the success of HBCUs with statistical data. We typically have lots of students who come from very challenging personal backgrounds, and are the first in their family to go to college. This explains why sometimes graduation rates may be slightly lower at HBCUs because we are willing to give people a chance when other schools wouldn't,” Daniels mentioned.

 Some students on campus felt as if the president’s response to the future of HBCUs came off as heartless.

 Ryan Kornegay, third-year food science student from Greenville, Fla., believed the president failed to understand the culture of HBCUs.

“Most HBCUs are in southern states that have been taken over by southern legislators who don't recognize the need for HBCUs. Legislators are attacking HBCUs and aren’t giving them the proper funding or resources to be able to achieve like other predominantly white institutions. I feel like that is what is really hindering HBCUs,”  Kornegay said. ”If legislators understood our culture then they would have more insight as to why we need to incorporate more resources to the table for HBCUs . I think that President Obama could be a little bit more understanding or have a better perspective on this issue.”

 Kornegay explained that HBCUs should work on improving recruitment.

“A lot of times we lose out to people who attend other predominantly white institutions. The tangible to that would be to increase the amenities on campus for a lot of students. When you have better scholarships it attracts more students and ultimately the university receives a higher influx of students this way.” says Korngay

The president’s words might have disturbed most students attending HBCUs, but campus administration members suggest that there are more factors to this issue.

 Nigel Edwards, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, said the issue or debate regarding the graduation rates and the educational quality of HBCUs cannot or should not be had in a vacuum.  

“There are many mitigating factors that need to be considered when looking at this area of concern. Issues of access, preparedness of students to succeed in college, standardization of college entrance exams, socio-economic backgrounds of prospective students, and the availability of resources to assist those who are disadvantaged are just some of the factors that can affect a school’s graduation rate.” Edwards said.

 There was a conversation that needs to be had regarding this issue. Hopefully policy makers and the HBCU community can come to some sort of common ground for useful, informative and dynamic resolutions to this issue.