Graduation rates at the 80 or so historically black colleges are at an alarmingly low rate, and the reasons are complex.
Black American culture traditionally values family, moral values, hard work, and racial pride, but it doesn't have the same deep legacy that whites have when it comes to college educations.
This doesn't mean that a college education has not been valued in black America. In fact, the very reason the 80 or so historically black colleges exist is because of the historical discrimination by traditionally white colleges and universities against blacks throughout American history. Even today, we still fight about it.
Samuel Freedman writes about all this in a piece in the New York Times.
He points out that a large number of black students never graduate from these historically black colleges (not many more do so from state institutions), and that large percentages of black students are ill-prepared to even begin college. Even though free remedial programs with free books are offered for these incoming students, many do not even attend. This is the way the director of Texas Southern's academic center, Dr. Jacqueline Fleming, describes the problem:
WHY don't they attend? That's the question of the decade...The single biggest factor is a lack of motivation. Their world is BET, ghetto rap, going to school dressed like you're going to a club. They're here because their grandmother said to be here, or because their parole officer said it was this or jail.
The financial condition of the historically black colleges works against them in every aspect of their efforts. Just in one area, endowments, these institutions are working at a huge disadvantage. For instance, "Texas Southern has an endowment of $6 million; across town, Rice University has $3 billion. The best endowed historically black institution, Howard University in Washington, ranks 132nd in the nation with $371 million, according to a survey by the National Association of College and University Business Officers."
The article ends with a story about how one college President is reaching out to the corporate world for help. But it will take more than corporate contributions to address this problem. And it will not be faith-based organizations that solve it either.
It will take a national re-dedication to the civil rights movement, supported by a US administration committed to solving the problem, and at a level that goes way beyond throwing money at it.