Your Take: HBCU Funds on Chopping Block

If you care at all about black colleges, here's what you need to do now, says the UNCF's president.

Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post via Getty Images

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This needs to go at the top of the “Must do — now!” list of everyone who cares about HBCUs. Members of Congress are famous for listening to voices from “back home” — the voices, in other words, of those who re-elect them, or don’t. They need to hear our voices, loud and clear. 

For years, HBCUs have been there for us and our community when we needed them. Now they — and the students who are getting their education today — need us. Take five minutes to go online and send Washington a message.

Needed Now More Than Ever

The contributions HBCUs make are well-documented and track closely with national needs. At a time when individual businesses and the American economy need a reliable pipeline of college-educated workers to stay competitive in the global economy, HBCUs produce 47,000 college graduates every year.

At a time when the American population is trending toward majority-minority ethnic balance, HBCUs have a decades-long track record of enrolling and graduating students of color. Some join the workforce right after graduation. Many enter graduate school, on their way to receiving doctoral degrees in the most demanding — and most in-demand — disciplines that graduate schools have to offer.

When the National Science Foundation traced the undergraduate backgrounds of African-American Ph.D. recipients in science and engineering, for example, they found that of the top 10 institutions producing doctorate-bound undergraduates, eight — the first eight — were all HBCUs, ahead of elite East Coast colleges and flagship state universities.

Who are HBCU graduates? You may recognize some of their names. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from an HBCU. So did Brown University President Ruth Simmons, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, congressman and civil rights pioneer John Lewis and film director Spike Lee.

HBCUs have also tackled the national challenge of economic inequality, which has been increasingly visible because of the Occupy demonstrations around the country. The prestigious Washington Monthly College Guide ranks colleges by their efforts to increase economic mobility. HBCUs are ranked near the top. One HBCU — Spelman College in Atlanta, for example — occupied the top ranking in social mobility among 250 liberal arts colleges; another HBCU, Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C., was ranked second. Two more HBCUs were ranked in the top 20.

Let’s Do the Math

In an economy struggling for traction, HBCUs are local and regional economic engines. Department of Education statistics show that HBCUs are responsible for more than 180,000 jobs (pdf). Based on that data, the institutions’ total nationwide economic impact is $13 billion, according to the UNCF’s adjustments for inflation. If HBCUs were a company, they would be in the top half of the Fortune 500.