Within the past several years I have heard lots of talk, mainly by politicians, about whether or not Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are relevant today. Of course they are! Is Harvard relevant today? What would the general answer be now?
HBCUs were founded to provide an education to people of African descent in the United States, but have become much more. For the past 176 years, HBCUs have educated individuals to positively contribute to society; locally, nationally, internationally, even intergalactically. Certain politicians, such as William Bennett and Rick Scott, believe students should major in a Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics (STEM) field in order to effectively contribute to society. HBCUs have been producing many of the best scientists, engineers, and health care professionals since the founding of the oldest HBCU in the country, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. In fact, a handful of HBCUs are land-grant institutions under the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1890; which, although at the time it was a struggle to obtain land-grant status, provided education that focused on agriculture and mechanical arts, among others, to all people, regardless of race and socioeconomic status. The same politicians who are advocates for STEM education ask the question, “Are HBCUs relevant today?” And argue, “We don’t need HBCUs anymore. We live in a ‘post-racial’ society where all students can attend any institution of higher education.” They should be asking, “Is Harvard relevant today?” Harvard, which at founding, only provided an education to privileged, white young men; many of whom went on to join the clergy. Today, Harvard educates all people from all walks of life to become professionals in various fields; although we mostly hear about Harvard in terms of its law school, rather than STEM education. But more importantly, since we apparently live in a “post-racial society” and because of the type of students served at its founding, I guess Harvard isn’t really relevant today either, right?
At the end of the day, whether it’s HBCUs or Harvard University, institutions of higher education exist in this present day to provide people with an opportunity to enhance the lives they desire to live. As a matter of fact, a degree from any institution means nothing unless one can “walk the walk and talk to the talk.” So why should one type of institution exist over another?