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The United States Must Support HBCUs and Opportunity for Black College Students

The United States Must Support HBCUs and Opportunity for Black College Students.

The rash of bomb threats against historically Black colleges and universities in the first months of 2022 is just one of the numerous signs that America is at risk of winding the clock backward when it comes to opportunities for Black students in higher education. For many Black college students, February brought tangible threats to safety and well-being.

According to the FBI, 57 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), other institutions, and houses of worship across the nation received bomb threats from January 4, 2022, through February 16, 2022. In addition, at least one other HBCU, Hampton University, received a bomb threat on February 23. For HBCUs, these threats are all the more chilling because they recall acts of violence and terror against students at Black colleges since the end of the Civil War.

As recently noted in The Atlantic, a college serving Black students in Tennessee was burned to the ground in 1866 during a race massacre in which 46 Black people were killed. Violent incidents such as the Orangeburg Massacre occurred on or near HBCU campuses during the civil rights movement. And as recently as 1999, a man detonated two bombs at Florida A&M University. Just as disturbing is that these attacks are not the only sign that some seek to wind the clock backward in terms of equal opportunity for Black college students.

In response to a recent executive order calling for a government wide approach to supporting HBCUs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created an HBCU council to “identify enhanced opportunities for recruitment of students and support for institutions through grants, contracts, transparent data sharing and community engagement.” It is encouraging to see federal agencies working to implement Biden’s executive order. The administration should continue to work to provide more technical assistance opportunities for HBCUs seeking to apply for federal research grants.

Under the leadership of Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and other members of Congress, HBCU-related programs have seen funding increases through the appropriations process and have enjoyed bipartisan support. Yet Congress should still provide more funding for HBCU-related programs through the fiscal year 2022 and future appropriations processes—and either through administrative or congressional action, the federal government should allow HBCUs to put existing funding toward enhanced security in response to the recent bomb threats.

In addition to these efforts, Congress can support HBCUs by passing H.Con.Res. 70, a bipartisan resolution that condemns the recent bomb threats and is supported by 64 higher education organizations, including CAP.

Next, Congress can and should find an opportunity to pass into law elements of the Build Back Better Act that supported HBCUs, as well as broader provisions that would make college more affordable. And Congress should look at additional ways to support research and development for HBCUs and Black scientists.

Taken together, these recommendations will equip HBCUs to provide further educational opportunities for Black students.

This moment of fear and sadness for HBCUs should galvanize policymakers to lift up the sector and move the gears of progress for Black students forward, not backward. Facing bomb threats, a Supreme Court that appears poised to end affirmative action, an affordability crisis, and the inequities of an ongoing pandemic, students at HBCUs are living in a present that does not seem so distant from the past. Black History Month is a reminder that the gains in access to education—education free from terror and that leads to economic success—can erode. Policymakers and institutional leaders must redouble their efforts to ensure that the higher education system lives up to its promise for all students. Better support for HBCUs is central in that effort.


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A New Must for HBCUs: Online Learning, and Why it is Key to Success.

A new must for HBCUs: Online Learning, and Why it is Key to Success.

Up until now, online education has been relegated to the equivalent of a hobby at most universities. With the pandemic, it has become a backup plan. Nevertheless, if HBCUs embraced this moment strategically, online education could expand access exponentially and drop its cost by magnitudes — all while shoring up revenues for universities in a way that is more recession-proof, policy-proof and pandemic-proof.

Students are increasingly turning to online courses because they have become a better way to learn.

  • Online courses offer students greater control over their own learning by enabling them to work at their own pace.

  • More engaging multimedia content, greater access to their instructor and fellow classmates via online chat, and less likelihood of outside scheduling conflicts can contribute to improved retention metrics.

  • Online courses also tend to include more frequent assessments. The more often students are assessed, the better their instructors can track progress and intervene when needed.

  • The online format allows a dynamic interaction between the instructor and students and among the students themselves. Resources and ideas are shared, and continuous synergy will be generated through the learning process.

  • Time efficiency is another strength brought by the online learning format. Asynchronous communication through online conferencing programs allows the professional juggling work, family, and study schedules to participate in class discussions. There is no question about doing the work; just do it at the times that are more convenient.

  • Online learning is that it allows students to participate in high quality learning situations when distance and schedule make on-ground learning difficult-to-impossible. Students can participate in classes from anywhere in the world, provided they have a computer and Internet connection.

On a variety of measures, many students who have taken both face-to-face and online courses now rank their online experiences equal to or better than their more traditional classroom courses. We have reached a watershed moment when the discussion will no longer be about the relative merits of online learning, but how best to implement online programs for maximum effect on student enrollment and success.

Today is a very exciting time for technology and education. Online programs offer technology-based instructional environments that expand learning opportunities and can provide top quality education through a variety of formats and modalities. With the special needs of adult learners who need or want to continue their education, online programs offer a convenient solution to conflicts with work, family, and study schedules. Institutions of higher education have found that online programs are essential in providing access to education for the populations they wish to serve.

For an online program to be successful, the curriculum, the facilitator, the technology, and the students must be carefully considered and balanced to take full advantage of the strengths of this format and at the same time avoid pitfalls that could result from its weaknesses.