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How HBCU’s are Stepping up for Adult Black Learners

How HBCUs are Stepping up for Adult Black Learners.

Adult learners—or students over the age of 25—face unique challenges in post-high school education, and those challenges are often steeper for Black students. Can HBCUs be part of the solution?

In 2007, as Jasmine Haywood was preparing for her final year in the electronic media, arts, and communications program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, she realized she wanted to pursue a different kind of career. Graphic design was not her passion. As a student, she had been heavily involved in extracurricular activities, including working as a tour guide and advocating for Latinx learners, and a career in higher education intrigued her. At the suggestion of an advisor she applied for a job at RPI, and after graduation began working as an admissions counselor.

Haywood was tasked with the job of swaying learners from across the country toward RPI, but time and again she was struck by the unique needs of prospective Black students—many of whom are first generation learners—and the many ways the system was letting them down. Some 30 percent of first-generation learners coming straight out of high school drop out within three years of starting their studies, according to reports. Some of these students are plagued by difficult considerations, like which school can offer them flexible class schedules, access to childcare, and an inclusive, supportive post-high school environment. As a Black Latina familiar with these challenges, Haywood did her best to provide objective advice.

The experience opened Haywood’s eyes to the needs of many Black learners as they wade through the landmine of education after high school, from enrollment to graduation and into the workforce. These challenges only compound for many Black adults who decide to return to school after having not graduated. Recent reports highlight that among Black adult learners between the ages of 25 to 29, only 29 percent held a bachelor’s degree, compared to 45 percent of white learners in the same age bracket.

For these students, and those who are older, college is a complicated space to navigate while maintaining a career, building a family or reenrolling in programs where their prior credits may not be transferable. Haywood came to refer to the challenge of navigating these unique barriers, and similar ones facing Black adult learners, as a kind of “hidden curriculum.”

Haywood’s two years as an admissions counselor solidified her passion for education beyond high school and sharpened her interest in helping historically marginalized students, particularly adult learners. Her 2016 doctorate in higher education and student affairs from the Indiana University School of Education was a history-making event—Haywood was one of only eight Black women to receive their doctorates from the School of Education. This work laid the foundation for her latest role in education equity: strategy director at a foundation which endeavors to make education beyond high school available to learners who are most in need, including students from low income backgrounds, recently landed immigrants, inmates, parolees, and people on probation, along with students juggling employment.

For her part, Haywood is particularly focused on increasing funding for adult students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and believes her own post-high school experience would have benefitted from attending an HBCU. “Both my undergrad and graduate schooling, unfortunately, involved a lot of racial microaggressions and experiences with racism on campus,” she said. By contrast, as spaces of shared identity, experience, and history, HBCUs offer Black students much-needed reprieve from the “hidden curriculum.”

HBCUs are also deeply embedded in the communities they serve, and are thus equipped with the understanding and knowledge it takes to stretch resources to best serve their student bodies. “They don’t have a lot of the challenges that historically white institutions have where they don’t know how to serve Black adults,” Haywood said. “They know what it takes to provide that sense of belonging.”

HBCUs also have a considerable impact when it comes to the success of Black students in the U.S. While just 3 percent of the country’s students attend an HBCU, they educate 10 percent of all Black students and represent over 20 percent of Black graduates. Students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math also get a leg up if they attend an HBCU: while Black graduates comprise only 7 percent of all STEM degrees in the US, for example, nearly 20% of those graduates received their degrees from an HBCU. Black graduates from HBCUs are also more likely to have higher mental and financial well-being than Black graduates who did not attend an HBCU.

In early 2020, Haywood connected with the leadership of ten HBCUs in North Carolina to kickstart the HBCU Adult Learner Initiative, a collaboration designed to support the specific needs of learners beyond the traditional age 18-to-24 demographic. She and a team of experts selected five HBCUs that would receive financial support to restructure their campuses and extend existing programs centered on adult students. The participating schools range in size from North Carolina’s rural Elizabeth City State University, which has an enrollment of about 2,000, to the medium-sized Fayetteville State University (FSU), with just under 6,000.

“I really want the Adult Learner Initiative to be like a proof concept,” Haywood said. “North Carolina has one of the largest numbers of HBCUs in the country. If the initiative succeeds, it can be taken to states such as Texas and Alabama which also have high numbers of HBCUs.” Over a period of two years these universities will a grant in addition to access to a team of technical experts, and each institution will distribute it toward areas where adult learners need the most support. FSU will double down on its pre-existing initiative to make transferring credits easier for adults and ex-military students coming in from community colleges, so they can easily re-enroll to complete their degrees or certifications. FSU also offers counseling and business classes for veterans and military-affiliated students stationed at nearby Fort Bragg, who make up 34 percent of the student body.

For his part, Gary Brown, vice chancellor of student affairs at ECSU, has lofty plans for the Adult Learner Initiative grant. Having spent almost two decades in education, he was hired at ECSU after the institution had weathered several years of instability. He envisions holistic changes that specifically serve adult learners including the construction of a “learning and living community,” a vibrant student village for on-campus housing, technology support, and counseling services, among other resources.

“I don’t want the students to walk away from the school feeling like they paid for the most expensive hotel stay of their life,” Brown said. “I want them to have a community, because it’s community that translates into student retention.”

For Haywood, the struggle to balance motherhood with her education hits particularly close to home: the on-campus childcare facility filled up quickly at the Indianapolis campus of Indiana University, forcing Haywood and her husband to constantly coordinate drop-offs and pick-ups from an off-campus daycare. While she leaned on the fellow Black mothers in her doctoral cohort for emotional support, she desperately lacked the institutional assistance needed to juggle her packed schedule and multiple responsibilities.

Haywood aims to center community with the Adult Learner Initiative, and provide HBCUs and their students the structural support they need to elevate Black learners. “My experience as an admissions counselor is most of the reason I’m in the career I’m in today,” Haywood said. “I saw things that frustrated me. It’s not a matter of whether [students] are smart enough. They are just not getting enough support.” As an exclamation point to her journey in equitable education access so far, Haywood is eager to discover how the initiative might pioneer a model for progressive education across the country.


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10 Successful Founders and Leaders To Graduate From HBCUs

10 Successful Founders and Leaders Graduated from HBCUs.

Thurgood Marshall went to Howard University. Marian Wright Edelman attended Spelman College. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to Morehouse.

America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have always served as a pillar of education and prominence for the Black community. Some of the best and brightest young minds went to HBCUs for both education and the pedigree needed to ascend to positions of power and influence.

Never has that legacy been more evident than now. A new guard of young and dynamic African-American political power brokers has emerged. They come from diverse backgrounds, but the ties that bind them are deep influence in the Black community’s political grassroots and walls adorned with diplomas from HBCUs.

The following is a brief introduction to HBCU grads who are not just political changemakers, but business leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers, movers and shakers. All trace their cultural and academic lineage to the same network of distinguished higher education institutions as Dr. King and the rest.

Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris added a whole bunch of firsts to her resume on Inauguration Day 2021: first African-American vice president, first woman vice president, first American of South Asian descent vice president and first all of those at the same time. Despite Howard University’s endlessly deep bench of distinguished alumni, Harris now holds a special place among the graduates of the HBCU known as “The Mecca.” A member of the Class of 1986, Harris was a sister of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. The Undefeated quotes an acquaintance of the vice president as summing up her remarkable and unlikely journey this way: “Kamala is the culmination of our founders’ wildest dreams.”

Raphael Warnock
Vice President Harris is the most prominent HBCU graduate to wield power at the highest levels of government, but she is only one part of a much larger movement. The historic election of Morehouse College alum Raphael Warnock to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate gave the Democrats full control of the federal government, but it was also a symbolic victory in the Deep South. Not only did Warnock, a fellow clergyman, go to Martin Luther King’s alma mater, but he was also chosen as senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist, which was Dr. King’s church in Atlanta. He is now the first African-American senator in

Stacey Abrams
Kamala Harris’ job could be a whole lot harder — and Sen. Warnock might not have his — if it weren’t for Stacey Abrams. She engineered her party’s massive upset victories in not one but two Georgia special runoff elections in 2021. Her efforts threw the Senate to the Democrats and handed her state’s Electoral College votes to Joe Biden. Abrams rose to national prominence in 2018 when she narrowly lost the governor’s race. Had she won, she would have been the first Black woman ever to serve as governor, not only of Georgia but of any state in America. A graduate of Spelman College in 1995, Abrams is the most visible face of the modern African-American grassroots political movement at the center of the Democratic Party.

Shawn Wilkinson
Shawn Wilkinson founded Storj when he was in his early 20s. He’s only now just approaching 30 and he’s already one of the most accomplished entrepreneurs to come out of Morehouse College, where he studied computer science on a full scholarship. Wilkinson discovered cryptocurrency like Bitcoin at Morehouse and went on to use the blockchain technology that it’s based on to disrupt the cloud computing industry. Storj revolutionized decentralized cloud computing, which lowers costs and improves security by using blockchain technology and cryptography to securely transfer data between

Oprah Winfrey
During the pandemic, the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation created a $12 million fund for pandemic relief in five cities that shaped the life and career of the foundation’s famous namesake. Among them was Baltimore, where Oprah got her start; Chicago, where her show and empire were headquartered; and Nashville, Tennessee, where she went to Tennessee State University. Oprah went to TSU on a full scholarship but missed graduating by a single credit when she left school in the early 1970s to start her first on-air job in Baltimore, according to The Undefeated. She finally graduated when she returned to Nashville in 1986 and turned in her final paper.

Sean Combs
Sean Combs still earns money from his Bad Boy back catalog — but the pioneering hip-hop, media, fashion and business mogul is hardly resting on his laurels. He remains one of the highest-paid celebrities in the world — making $55 million in 2020, according to Forbes — mostly through his booze and beverage empire. Combs is one of Howard University’s favorite sons, quite an honor, considering its all-star list of distinguished alumni. He’s given commencement addresses to graduates there, consistently cited his time at Howard as a primary foundational experience and has given generously to his alma mater. He donated $1 million to a Howard University business scholarship in his name and the school has paid tribute to Combs with several awards and an honorary degree — the future star originally dropped out to pursue his music career.

Will Packer
Filmmaker Will Packer’s movies have grossed more than $1 billion, and he boasts a remarkable nine consecutive No. 1 films — but he’s no ordinary producer. A graduate of Florida A&M University, he founded Will Packer Productions, but his journey started at his HBCU. In 2018, he returned to his alma mater to join fellow Florida A&M grad and fellow Hollywood success story Rob Hardy for the 25-year anniversary of their very first movie. The duo — both of whom earned engineering degrees — filmed a low-budget indie flick in 1994 called “Chocolate City,” which they distributed through the film company they founded, Rainforest Films. It was the start of both of their careers.

Janice Bryant Howroyd
Janice Bryant Howroyd is recognized as the first African-American woman in the United States to own and operate a billion-dollar business. With a few hundred bucks in her own savings and a $900 loan from her mother, Howroyd became an entrepreneur in 1978. That year, she founded a staffing agency called ActOne in the office of a rug shop with a single fax machine. She built it into a powerful, $2.8 billion company with 17,000 clients in 19 countries, according to Fox Business. Howroyd is also a graduate of North Carolina A&T University. The fourth of 11 children, she won a full scholarship to study there and eventually went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate.

Chris Latimer
If you ever see superstars like Will Smith, KRS-One, Mary J. Blige, Russell Simmons, Queen Latifah and Snoop decked out in brightly colored clothing from America’s HBCUs, it’s likely that they’re wearing something from the African-American College Alliance. Howard grad Chris Latimer founded the company in 1991 and has used it to link the legacies of his two passions: HBCUs and hip-hop. He’s used the brand to promote HBCUs by getting school logos on the hats and hoodies of celebrities. Thirty years later, the brand endures and the biggest stars in the world still go on stage draped in logos from schools like Cheyney, Lincoln, Tuskegee, Spelman, Howard and Morgan State.

Lonnie Johnson
You know Lonnie Johnson as the man who invented the Super Soaker, the No. 1 bestselling water toy of all time. But he’s much more than just some basement inventor who got lucky tinkering with a water gun and a pump. Johnson earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University, as well as a master’s in nuclear engineering and an honorary Ph.D. An Air Force veteran, Johnson was acting chief of the Space Nuclear Power Safety Section at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. He later worked on the Galileo Jupiter mission, the Mars Observer project and the Saturn Cassini project as a senior systems engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A prolific entrepreneur, Johnson founded two advanced energy and battery companies, Excellatron Solid State and Johnson Battery Technologies, Inc. Johnson holds more than 100 patents, including for the Super Soaker, which did more than $200 million in sales and was the bestselling toy in America.


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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.