Status of Black Women and HBCUs Focus of Urban League Report - Higher Education

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Status of Black Women and HBCUs Focus of Urban League Report

by Michelle J. Nealy

The National Urban League’s annual report on the state of Black America this year  examines the community through the eyes and the lives of Black women. Black women face numerous challenges, as do the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities, according to “The State of Black America 2008: In The Black Woman’s Voice.

As the relevance of HBCUs is being challenged, Black women are increasingly finding themselves ensnarled in the criminal justice system. They are overrepresented among those afflicted with a wide range of serious diseases including: HIV/AIDS, breast cancer and heart disease, yet underrepresented among those who have access to health insurance. Finally, Black women are most likely to endure the work and responsibility of raising children in single-parent households.

“When Black women hurt, the American family suffers. When we ignore Black women’s issues, we ignore an entire community. But by uplifting Black women, especially those struggling hardest to keep their families together and their dreams on track, we lift up every American community,” says Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League.

The annual barometer of progress for the Black community, the National Urban League’s “State of Black America” report, confirms that serious economic, educational and health disparities continue to persist for Black Americans, in general, when compared to their White counterparts.

The NUL uses its equality index to provide a statistical measurement of the gaps between Blacks and Whites in five categories: economic, education, health, civic engagement and social justice.

This year’s equality index showed a slight improvement in the gap between Black and White Americans, as Blacks are now at 73 percent to 100 percent of Whites and last year they were at 72 percent. Of note is the fact that many Black homeowners took a hit from subprime mortgages. More than 50 percent of Blacks received subprime loans compared with 17 percent of Whites. Many of these homeowners were women.

Since its inception in 2003, the NUL’s equality index has remained virtually unchanged, hovering in the low 70 percent range.

The report also illuminates the lack of improvement in the area of education from last year to this year.

The index for education experienced nearly a 1 percent decrease mainly because of a drop in the index for college enrollment among recent high school graduates.

According to the report, the college enrollment gap between Black and White recent high school graduates widened from 91 percent to 76 percent. Fewer Black high school graduates matriculated into colleges and universities, while the number of White high school graduates who matriculated in postsecondary institutions grew.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women and guest editor of this year’s report, which includes a collection of essays, told reporters at a news conference in Washington, D.C., that Black and Brown America was in the midst of an educational crisis.

“Everybody does not have an education crisis. In Black and Brown America there are children desperately trying to attend college,” said Malveaux, noting that high tuition costs and high interest student loans were detouring many.

“The average HBCU graduate leaves college with $28,000 worth of debt. Young people are coming out of college shackled like slaves with $28,000 worth of debt,” Malveaux said.

Plagued by problems of fiscal irresponsibility, accreditation issues and poor graduation rates, many HBCUs are against the ropes, competing against top-tier universities with billion-dollar endowments.

In an essay entitled, “The Triumphs and Challenges of Historically Black College and Universities,” former Spelman and Bennett College President Johnnetta Cole asserts that the financial and academic challenges innate to HBCUs must be addressed if these institutions “are to remain a viable choice in the world of American higher education.”

Although HBCUs only comprise 3 percent of American colleges and universities, they account for a quarter of all Black college graduates. Three-quarters of all African-American Ph.D.s did their undergraduate studies at an HBCU, and, according to Cole the total economic impact of the nation’s HBCUs in 2001 was $10.2 billion.

“Last year, Black America was at a tipping point. This year, our community treads water. We tread water because when we look over the horizon, we see thunderstorms, storm clouds and challenges ahead,” Morial said.

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