HBCUs vs PWIs: The Underlying Difference

Race may seem like the underlying difference between HBCUs and PWIs, but the day-to-day interactions between professors and students during fundamental learning is what is setting these two institutions apart.

According to Pew Research, in 2015 only 3 percent of the nation’s higher learning institutions were HBCUs, but just 9 percent of black college students in the United States attended one. That 9 percent of black students attending an HBCU accumulated to approximately 300,000 individuals.

In comparison, at PWIs white students consisted of 53 percent of the U.S. undergraduate enrollment rate; which is roughly 9 million white students nationwide. The range between the two schools’ enrollment rates are wide in margin, but what is happening in the classrooms at these two types of schools?

Has the racial outlook of black and white people affected the option to choose between an HBCU and a PWI?

When Florida State University’s Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs, Professor Gregory J. Harris was asked what students could avail from these institutions, he said, “I believe that HBCU students may benefit more from the conversation and discussion oriented dialogue that tends to take place more so in the HBCU classroom environment.”

Harris is an African-American graduate of not only FSU and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, but as well as the University of Florida and Boston University. With 27 years of collegiate teaching experience, he believes, “There has always been more experiential and hands-on learning in the HBCU context, than in the traditional PWI classroom experience; although, that is changing as more PWIs are invested in engagement and experiential opportunities for students.”

The same conceptual viewpoint can also be shared among students at FSU as well.FSU Graduating senior Alexis Smith says, “I would never be able to just talk to my professor in a classroom setting. It is hard to build relationships with actual teachers who don’t have 500 million things going on.”

This lack of connection between a student and professor is strictly dependent on those two persons and it is usually an external or internal issue hindering a professional relationship to be established. Most college students are young and are trying to find their proper footing to walk their desired career paths.

It may not seem like the type of thing to think about when debating between schools but the individual instructors at these institutions play a major role in the student’s overall college experience.

Tennessee State University’s Success Completion Coach and Program Coordinator Anika Evans believes that race does play some type of role in a college education. However, she says, “The most important thing that affects a college education is what student puts in, the initiative. The ideology of the professor is next important.”

Even though some instructors may have the qualifications to be a leader in their area of expertise, this does not necessarily mean they possess the efficient skills to adequately convey information to students in a classroom setting.

FAMU’s Associate Professor of Economics and Chair of Professional Leadership and FSU graduate Deedgra Williams has a niece that should be graduating from Leon High School next year. Williams said, “I recently made up my mind that I am going to encourage her to attend FAMU. There is this culture that is just completely awesome, professional and encouraging. You can learn freely in a more loving environment and become more aggressive and proactive when it comes to your learning.”

The learning experience students have at either HBCUs or PWIs is strictly on the students’ in-depth act to learn and the instructor’s ability to engagingly teach. It is evident instructors at HBCUs empower their students more through the classroom, but it is also the student’s responsibility to show initiative regardless of their skin color and what school they attend.