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Obama’s reform plan ‘misplaced’ for HBCUs

Freddie Allen | 9/16/2013, 11:24 a.m.

A study conducted by the Center on Education and the Workforce at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, in Washington, D.C., found that, “Many African Americans and Hispanics are unprepared for college, but whites who are equally unprepared still get more postsecondary opportunities.”

The study also reported that Blacks and Latinos who are college-ready are steered into “crowded and underfunded two-year colleges and open-access four-year colleges” at higher rates than their White peers.

“To say schools that graduate 70 percent of their students should get a higher [ratings] number than schools that have a lower graduation rate is going to hurt schools that have a less prepared population of entering students,” Taylor said. “It’s no surprise to me that Harvard University is going to have a higher graduation rate than [Florida A & M University].”

If the graduation rate is coupled with a factor that accounts for the effort that is required to graduate a certain type of student, that measurement could actually help HBCUs and community colleges, Taylor believes.

Of particular concern to Taylor was a system that might compare graduate earnings for a school that does a phenomenal job graduating K-12 classroom teachers versus a school that does a phenomenal job graduating engineers.

“Well, guess which graduates are going to have higher salaries and better jobs?” he said. “I want to make sure that the Department of Education looks at the impact that different majors and careers have on society and a broad classification of people. If they do that, we’ll be okay.”

Measuring the earnings of graduates in a labor market with lingering issues of race and gender discrimination offers yet another challenge.

“It can’t just be about how fast you can grow a dollar,” Baskerville said. “Many HBCUs are founded on ecumenical principles. We encourage students to go into public service, we encourage students to volunteer and to give their time, and if they’re entrepreneurs, we encourage them to be good entrepreneurs. We encourage our male college graduates to be mentors to young Black boys. How do you quantify those things?”

Malveaux said that the Department of Education needs to acknowledge that Black graduates experience unique challenges in the labor market.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that studies low- and middle-income families, “The unemployment rate of young black college graduates was 8.5 percent in 2007, rose to 21.9 percent by 2010, and improved to 11.9 percent over the last year (March 2012–February 2013).”

The unemployment rate for young, White college graduates was 8 percent during the same time period.

Even as the president moves to pressure colleges and universities to curb runaway tuition costs, the Department of Education ignored pleas from education groups that represent HBCUs to reverse measures that sidelined thousands of Black students that were eligible for Parent PLUS Loans a few semesters ago.

William R. Harvey, president of Hampton University and the chair of President Obama’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, said that the changes in the Parent PLUS program resulted in a loss of 28,000 HBCU students and $154 million in revenue to HBCUs.