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Do we still need Historically Black Colleges and Universities? It’s a question that even some Blacks are asking. Interestingly, those same people never ask whether Catholics still need Notre Dame or whether women still need Wellesley College? The an

Do we still need Historically Black Colleges and Universities? It’s a question that even some Blacks are asking. Interestingly, those same people never ask whether Catholics still need Notre Dame or whether women still need Wellesley College? The answer is that we need all of those colleges.

Considering the record of HBCUs, we should be asking how we can make sure they’re around at least another century.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that although Black colleges represent only 3 percent of the nation’s universities, they produce 23.6 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Blacks. The numbers are even larger in the physical, mathematical, biological and agricultural sciences, where HBCUs account for more than 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans. HBCUs confer 13.1 percent of master’s degrees earned by African Americans and 10.6 percent of all doctoral degrees.

Not only are Black colleges still needed, they are indispensible.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am chairman of the Board of Trustees at Knoxville College, my alma mater. And I know first-hand the problems many Black colleges, especially small private ones, are experiencing. Facing competition from predominantly white universities, limited finances and poor oversight, many of these colleges are fighting to stay alive.

In the case of Knoxville College, we’re trying to regain accreditation that was lost a decade ago and raise badly-needed funds. There is good news and bad news.

The bad news is that organizations set up specifically to assist Black colleges–the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education–fail to help troubled Black institutions when they need them the most. In order to get assistance from the organizations, colleges must be accredited. It’s a Catch-22–you get help when you need it least.

The good news is that help comes from other sources. Beyond spotlighting Knoxville as College of the Month, as it has done in the past, the Tom Joyner Foundation has been a source of funds and inspiration. It’s such an uphill struggle that even trustees and college officials get discouraged from time to time.

But seeing what the Joyner Foundation has done and is doing recharges all of our batteries. For example, this summer the foundation rehabilitated a dorm that will be used this fall. In addition, it has helped with student recruitment and is holding a fundraiser in Knoxville next December.

We’ve also received help from the White House Initiative on HBCUs. Executive Director Leonard L. Haynes and Deputy Director Ronald E. Blakely have directed the college to numerous resources. Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele has pledged to establish a Conflict Resolution Training Center on campus.

It would be shortsighted to think this is only about saving a college. It’s about saving lives. Even as we rebuild, we are still turning out excellent students who go on to successful lives.

Like many HBCUs, we take a special interest in the student that others have given up on.

Anyone can enroll an ‘A’ or ‘B’ student and take credit for his or her achievements. But at Knoxville College, while we like the ‘A’ and ‘B’ students, we pride ourselves on taking a chance on the mid- or low-range students–the ones that can go either way–and guide them to a successful life. That’s our specialty.

Knoxville College alumni include Jake Gaither, the legendary football coach who won more than 85 percent of his games at Florida A&M and never had a losing season; Bishop Warren Brown (AME Zion); American Baptist College President Forrest Harris; Dr. Edith Irby Jones, the first female president of the National Medical Association; Dr. Joseph Gay, former president of the National Dental Association; C. Virginia Fields, former two-term Manhattan Borough president; Vernon Jarrett, first Black columnist for the Chicago Tribune and so many others.

Trustees and school officials are fighting so hard to keep the doors of Knoxville College open.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.

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Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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