A usually rhythmically eloquent President Barack Obama did all but stutter in his response to a question posed by a Southern University student during his recent visit to Baton Rouge. The student was hoping the President could offer him some advice on what to say to the Black high school students reluctant to attend an HBCU because they feared the experiences and degrees won’t offer them as much opportunity (read potential employment and graduate education prospects) compared to attending a school like LSU or Tulane.
The President started with a blustering statement that, while paying homage to HBCUs, was a bit chiched.

“Well, first of all, the role of the historically black colleges and universities in producing our leadership and expanding opportunity — training doctors and teachers and lawyers and ministers who change the landscape of America. I hope most people know that story; and if not, you better learn it, because it has been powerful, and continues to be a powerful tradition.”

But his response was soon saddled with hesitation and stipulation:

“And I will tell you that if you have done well at an HBCU and graduated, and you go to an employer and are making the kind of presentation you make or a Morehouse man makes or a Spelman young lady makes, you will do just fine. I don’t think it’s true that actually people don’t take — or discount that tradition. And you will be credentialed. You’ll succeed.”

One has to wonder if the same caveat to success (doing well and graduating) exists for those that attend non-HBCUs. Also, he does know there are other HBCUs besides Spelman and Morehouse…doesn’t he?

At any rate, it pretty much went downhill from there. He continued—going on about poor graduation rates at HBCUs and mountains of student loan debt that HBCU students and graduates are saddled with—as if any of those higher education woes are specific to the nation’s roughly 100 colleges and universities labeled as historically Black. To be sure, student loan debt is a problem, but not for HBCU grads alone. A U.S. Department of Education survey of 15,000 high school students in 2002, and again in 2012 at age 27, found that 84 percent of the 27-year-olds had some college education, but only 34 percent achieved a bachelor’s degree or higher. It also showed that 79 percent owed student loans, with 55 percent owing more than $10,000. And that survey was not specific to HBCU students or graduates, but more likely mirrored the country’s demographics.


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