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MYTHS ABOUT ATTENDING A HISTORICALLY BLACK COLLEGE 


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By Holly Gant Jones

I feel compelled to address an issue that is repeatedly raised by my students and their families, namely, should students apply to predominantly and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? Having received both my Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees from Howard University in Washington, D.C., you might assume that I have a bias in favor of the HBCUs or that I try to steer my students of color in that direction. Though I am a strong supporter of these schools, I do not do so, but try to dispel the following myths and misconceptions that many hold about the HBCUs.

Black schools do not prepare you for the real world.
I have yet to meet a graduate of an HBCU who felt this way, though I often encounter others who have not attended one who hold this belief. My personal experience was actually the opposite. I felt as though special attention was given to me on how to successfully navigate in the "real" world, with an emphasis on sharpening communication skills (speaking, writing). I was also sensitized to the possible barriers I might encounter both as a minority and as a woman. I was given an awareness of the resistance that exists and was supplied with the tools that I could use to help overcome any obstacles thrown in my path. To lend credibility to this point, I have excerpted a quote from the eGuidance/Peterson's website stating that, "Howard University has more than 50,000 alumni and produced more than 10 percent of the nation's [Black] lawyers, business leaders, politicians, social workers, engineers, artists, musicians, and other professions."

Because HBCUs have lower admissions standards and costs than many of the competitive and highly competitive institutions, they must be lesser quality institutions.
It is a well documented fact that minorities do not generally score as well as their White and Asian counterparts on standardized tests. Much of the research states that the discrepancy in scoring is related to cultural biases inherent in these tests. Whether you agree with this assessment or not, the HBCUs do not want to prevent diligent, highly motivated students from pursuing a quality education based upon less than stellar standardized test scores. Their philosophy is to provide access to education for students who want to pursue higher education. Also, the HBCUs are aware that not all students have the maturity and focus to achieve high grades in high school. Yet many of these students are perfectly competent, capable students, late bloomers if you will, who do not accelerate academically until they reach college.

HBCUs work very hard to contain their costs to give students the opportunity to attend college. Statistically, a significant number of minority families are from lower to mid-socioeconomic levels, which could prevent them from paying $30,000 - $40,000 per year for college The HBCUs want to provide more accessibility to higher education for minority students.

As is true with all other colleges and universities, every HBCU is different, ranging from smaller institutions with more limited offerings to world-renowned universities, offering world class facilities, technology, and teaching staff. My advice is to judge the school not on its admissions criteria but on the quality of the programs and resources available to its students, the academic integrity of its courses and, ultimately, the success of its graduates. Do your research!

Being in an all-Black environment is artificial and limiting.
I have found this assumption to be patently untrue. It is very empowering to find yourself in a situation where you are in the majority. All of a sudden, you are no longer a Black person, you are a person. You do not question whether or not the treatment you received and/or the grade you were given were a result of race because race becomes a non-issue. You are exposed to a spectrum of people of color who are successful, which is contrary to the portrayal of minorities, specifically African-Americans, in the mainstream media, e.g., criminals, comedians, rap stars and athletes. You find yourself surrounded by professional, credentialed people of color, Ph.D.s, professors, deans, administrators, scholars, etc., who are brilliant and worldly. And let me be clear; I am not criticizing comedians, rap stars and athletes, rather I recognize their contributions and success. I am saying that the Black community is not limited to greatness in just these areas and this becomes abundantly clear on an HBCU campus. The HBCUs enhance the educational experience of their students by not only teaching the standard Eurocentric-based curriculum but also Black history, which has often been sorely lacking in student textbooks and studies.

A degree from an HBCU may be undervalued by prospective employers.
Unfortunately, there will be instances in which this will be the case. A degree can be undervalued just as people of color are often assessed this way. However, my experience has been that when granted an interview or given the opportunity to demonstrate my professional worth, this perception is quickly dispelled. In the final analysis, you will be judged based upon your performance and the contributions you bring to your job.

HBCUs are party schools.
College, any college, will present its students with choices. Choices about the friends they make, the major(s) they will pursue and the manner in which they prioritize their time. All students living away from home for the first time will have to decide whether or not to put their studies before their social lives. I reject the notion that HBCUs are party havens. Anyone who has ever visited the colleges and universities in the Boston/ Cambridge, Massachusetts area, (e.g., Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston University, Boston College, etc.) knows of the phenomenal social life available to students. Bars, clubs, cafes, shops and dorm parties abound. Yet I seldom (actually, never) hear of parents trying to dissuade their child(ren) from attending these excellent institutions due to the "party" atmosphere. This will be true in many college communities. Self-discipline will become the ultimate determinant of success.

I just experienced a very disturbing situation within my high school, which contributed to my decision to author this article. A few of my students came to me and my fellow coworker in the Guidance Department stating that they had been counseled by one of their teachers not to attend an HBCU (any HBCU). He explained to these students that he believed that HBCUs were inferior, that they should not attend a school that has a "Black-orientation," and actively tried to convince them of the benefits of attending a SUNY (State University of New York) school. What is particularly disturbing about this incident is that the comments were made by one of our most popular, well-liked, respected and competent teachers. He has tremendous influence over his students and they give credence to his words. In this case, he deeply offended one student in particular, because she had applied to only HBCUs, had recently received a letter of acceptance, and felt as though he was diminishing both the accomplishment and excitement of her moment. In my opinion, he tried to impose a belief that lacked credibility, since he has never, admittedly, visited nor researched an HBCU. What is even more egregious is that he imposed his values and beliefs upon students. I think it is a huge mistake to do so. HBCUs are not for every student, but they provide a fabulous, enlightening, stimulating experience for many. It is a personal decision that should not be thwarted by others.

When I decided to continue my education and pursue a Master's degree, I applied to and was accepted into both Howard University and Columbia University Teacher's College. After much thought, research, on-site interviews and soul-searching, I chose Howard over Columbia. Many factors went into my decision, including excellence of program, campus environment, and what I assessed would be the quality of my overall educational experience (cost was not a factor). My undergraduate days at Howard University let me know that I would be nurtured as a person while simultaneously being held to a standard of academic excellence. My choice was based upon my personal needs and assessments, and, I am happy to report, I have never once regretted nor second-guessed my decision.

In helping my students address the question of whether or not attending an HBCU is the right choice for them, I advise them to make their decision based upon real information, not rumors, innuendo or the uninformed opinions of others. Visit schools and arrange for tours. Sit in on classes, talk to students, surf Web sites, read literature. Weigh the pros and cons based upon your needs, means and career goals. Don't let yourself buy into the notion that Black = less than. Some of the HBCUs have world-class facilities, technology and teaching staffs. Do your research and find out what school is best suited to set you on the path to personal and professional success.

Holly Gant Jones is a Guidance Counselor at Woodlands High School in New York.

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