A brilliant leader once stated “the greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first. Then you’ll get action.” The evidence of truth in the words of Malcolm X can be found in the relevancy that grows within each generation. His words, the proverbial seeds planted generations ago, are manifested in our young people.
Our young people are woke and are making moves. If the rise in youth-led movements hasn’t demonstrated this, then perhaps the spike in HBCU enrollment will serve as an indicator. Reports indicate in 2016 Spelman College received 7,868 new applications. Of those, 2,807 were admitted and 532 enrolled. College officials stated this is a record for the 135- year old institution. Of course Spelman is not the only HBCU to report significant increases in enrollment. From 1976-2013 HBCU enrollment increased by reported 36%, rising from 223,000 applicants to 303,000.
It is projected that this enrollment increase will continue (especially given the current political climate) and we anticipate that the rise of college tours will increase as well. With that in mind, here are a few critical things students should inquire about while attending an HBCU tour.
Critics of these historical institutions often site a lack of diversity as chief among their complaints. What such critics may fail to understand is the diversity that exists within Black communities. Black people are not a monolith. There is diversity in thought, life experiences, background, family structures, birth places and a number of other things. This results in a rich diverse experiences even when most (if not all) the students identify as Black. Also worth noting, that identifying as Black encompasses more than just African-American students. Accordingly, prospective students should inquire about the diversity of the student body. Any tour guide worth their salt would be able to share at least some data about the student demographics.
Alumni and Success Rate
What percentage of the alumni actively contribute to the school in some form? Does a huge portion of the alumni donate annually? Do they serve as mentors to former students? Do they actively seek to hire graduates from their alma mater? Is there a general profession that alumni typically excel in post-graduation? What is the graduation rate? These questions are both telling and helpful in shaping a student’s decision.
A common misconception is students that attend HBCUs will not receive a vast amount of funding options. This perception is based on the idea that attending a PWI ( predominantly white institution) will qualify minority students for a large number of scholarships. However, student’s attending HBCUs greatly benefit from scholarships. Most scholarships are based on student merit and not school selection. Yet, some scholarships are specific to HBCU students. It’s vital to ask about the school’s participation in scholarship programs. Such questions should go hand in hand with alumni inquires. It is not uncommon for schools to collaborate with Alumni to create scholarship opportunities for students.
Study Abroad Programs
Most readers of GR can attest to the power of travel and the rise of (or rise in notice of) Black travelers. Schools have different study abroad programs that vary in terms of location, eligibility requirements, cost and funding options. Taking advantage of a rich study abroad program can shape students in profound ways.
Obtaining a full experience from an HBCU begins with the selection process. Information gathering before the tour is vital. Many underfunded public schools no longer offer college tours (especially tours of HBCUs). However, it is still possible to contact community organizations that host annual tours. Organizations such as NEED or HBCUTE provide tours for perspective students. Another alternative is to attend a HBCU fair. The New York Urban League hosts an annual fair in New York. Last year it was held in November and had over 3,000 attendees.
If what Malcolm X said was true and the greatest mistake of the movement for justice was a failure to awaken people prior to organizing then I have hope for our future. Both our current young leaders and potential future leaders are demonstrating an awaking. They are leading this rise in activism and responsible for the increase in HBCU attendance. Let us join them by continuing to empower their action with the wisdom of our elders and practical tools for success.