With Grambling State’s football team protesting last week’s game versus Jackson State – in light of the general condition of its athletic program, as it sees it – I was asked if HBCU sports were even relevant in 2013. And of course my answer was, “yes.”
But if you’ve never been a part of the HBCU culture or understand the history of the institutions this is clearly a valid question.
The first thing you have to remember is that if this were Chowan or Johnson C. Smith the media coverage would not have been as extensive. But Grambling is not just an HBCU, but rather a national brand i.e. Notre Dame, Penn State, or the University of Alabama.
Growing up in predominantly black South DeKalb County there was never a doubt in my mind that following high school graduation I would attend an HBCU; not because I couldn’t get into the University of Georgia or West Georgia, but because I wanted my share of the HBCU Experience!
As a child, my Uncle Elliott would brag about how dominant the Florida A&M College Rattlers were during his college career under the guidance of the legendary Jake Gaither. He taught me about the legacy of not only Gaither but Eddie Robinson and John Merritt.
You see, 50 years ago if Gaither, Robinson, or Merritt wanted you to attend their respective schools it was a no-brainer. These guys were the Who’s Who in coaching – not just on the HBCU scene but in all of college football because of the success their programs.
But with that you have to remember that was a different time in college football because of segregation. From the mid ’60s until integration in the early 1970’s there were over 400 players selected in the NFL draft from HBCUs. Following integration over the next 15-20 years there were nearly 300 players selected in the NFL draft. And as of 2013 that number has dropped significantly.
Nonetheless, there are a total of 77 HBCU players on NFL rosters right now. The MEAC has the most NFL players on their roster with 29 total players on NFL rosters, the SWAC is in second with 25 total players, the SIAC has 10 players representing their schools, and the CIAA has a total of 7.
The 2013 Baltimore Ravens – last year’s Super Bowl champions – have the most players from the HBCU on their roster with 9 total players. And 10% of their roster is made up of HBCU players.
HBCUs have produced some of the NFL’s greatest talent:
- Doug Williams, Grambling State • James “Shack” Harris, Grambling State Richard Dent, Tennessee State • Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Tennessee State • Deacon Jones, South Carolina State/Mississippi Valley State • Harry Carson, South Carolina State • Bob Hayes, Florida A&M • Walter Payton, Jackson State • Steve McNair, Alcorn State • John Stallworth, Alabama A&M • Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State • Willie Lanier, Morgan State • Shannon Sharpe, Savannah State • Donald Driver, Alcorn State
And did you know former NY Giants sack master and current television host Michael Strahan is a product of the SWAC’s Texas Southern University?
Strahan set the NFL’s single season sack record in 2002 with 22.5 sacks, but this season the record could be challenged by another HBCU product: Alabama A&M’s Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts, who currently has 11.5 sacks through seven games.
This legacy must be preserved. While top notch African-American players are making the decision to attend the likes of UGA, LSU, and Alabama, HBCUs are still a great choice for any student athlete aspiring to become a productive citizen, which is what the college experience is truly about – whether HBCU or SEC.
No matter what the Grambling student athletes’ gripe is with the university, the one thing for sure is that the nation is once again focused on HBCUs.
I’m a Spelman College graduate. That institution changed my life. It taught me the meaning of womanhood and my place as a black woman in this world. I graduated with a degree in Confidence, Self-Esteem, Perseverance and Determination.
Currently, there are 105 historically black colleges and universities in the United States, and these include public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, medical schools and community colleges.
They educate about 374,000 students – including white students. Spelman College has and continues to be the #1 Historically Black College in the “Best Colleges” rankings from US News & World Report, with Morehouse College in the #2 spot, followed by Howard University, Fisk and Tuskegee Universities.
That sounds terrific, right?
But where do they stand in the rankings among all colleges, black or white?
Spelman College ranks #65 among national liberal arts colleges. Morehouse ranks #126 in that same category.
Howard University ranks #142 in the national universities category (dropping 22 positions from 2012, and 46 positions from 2010). Fisk comes in at #146 and Tuskegee doesn’t even rank in the national universities category, but comes in #13 for regional colleges in the south.
Just for the record, so we can view this in its totality, the top 5 colleges are Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Stanford Universities; not an HBCU in sight.
No surprise then that the top 5 are all white institutions, and they use these statistics to attract the best and brightest students to their campuses – black or white.
When you begin to look at the disparity in the rankings between traditional institutions and HBCUs, you have to ask yourself: why is it that way? Is it about money? Endowments? Resources? Facilities? Academics? Race?
For Howard University, the decline in the rankings represents an apparent crisis. Dr. Sidney Ribeau, HU’s President, recently announced his retirement and the school is now searching for a replacement that can attract funding, improve graduation and retention rates, student selectivity, faculty resources and help with administrative despondency.
These particular issues are not unique to just Howard University, but are challenges faced by numerous if not all HBCUs.
Think Morris Brown College – which is virtually abandoned as it fights its way to survival from one court hearing to the next. Many have said that Morris Brown found itself in this position because of fiscal mismanagement, incompetent leaders and lack of alumnae support.
Supporters of Morris Brown would argue that it’s a land issue, a fight over prime real estate.
Bottom line, Morris Brown lost its accreditation and students had to leave college; many with nowhere else to go.
Earlier this year, St. Paul’s College – a tiny, 125-year-old black liberal arts college in southern Virginia – quietly announced that it was throwing in the towel and would be closing its doors at the end of June.
Black colleges have had an especially rough time getting their alums to open their wallets. And the reason many people give for not supporting their alma maters is that even alums who love their schools don’t necessarily trust them with their money.
Walter Kimbrough, the president of Dillard University in New Orleans, chalked it up to The Huffington Post as “a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of unpleasant if not counterproductive experiences at their schools registrar’s office, the business office and financial aid offices that leave graduates feeling that their universities are poorly run.”
While St. Paul’s may have been the latest HBCU to shut down, the last several decades have seen several others cease operations. Prentiss Institute and Bishop College both closed in 1988. Mary Holmes College shut down in 2004.
Because of sharp changes to a student loan policy, enrollment at HBCUs has dramatically dropped. This is not good for the schools — or hopeful high school graduates.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan apologized to historically black colleges for what he called poor communication by the department on the changes in loan eligibility. Until 2011, applicants were approved for a PLUS loan as long as they were not more than 90 days delinquent on any debt, and did not have any foreclosures, bankruptcies, tax liens, wage garnishments, or student loan defaults in the past five years.
So with all of this, what makes a student and their parents want to embrace HBCUs over lower cost options like state schools, local scholarship incentives like the HOPE Scholarship here in GA and universities and colleges that offer a wider view, increased post graduation opportunities and scholarships aimed at promoting a diverse student body?
Some would argue – and I believe this to be true – that its our right to come together to preserve our own unique historical and cultural legacy, just like many other institutions of higher learning around the country and around the world.
That HBCUs turn out thousands of doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants and teachers that would not have otherwise been given such opportunities for advanced education.
Then there’s such famous HBCU graduates including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mayor Kasim Reed, Oprah Winfrey, Nikki Giovanni, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Rosa Parks, Taraji P. Henson, Common, Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen.
However, as the world becomes more “brown,” white enrollment increases at HBCUs, loan programs continue to increase their qualification standards and academics standards decrease in ranking. HBCUs will have to work increasingly harder to attract and retain the very students they were built to serve.
But finances and academics are not the only problems at HBCUs.