Posted on April 17, 2024

Do HBCUs Have Any Real Standards?

Jack Krak, American Renaissance, April 17, 2024

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A recent post on AmRen caught my attention for more than just the story it told. It was about a white employee of a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in Missouri and how she won a settlement after filing a discrimination claim. The HBCU in question was Harris-Stowe State University, an institution I hadn’t heard of.

My curiosity led me to do some searching online. I have long been interested in HBCUs, mostly for the same reasons that any AmRen reader would be. This started many years ago when I was attending Florida State University in Tallahassee. I had a part-time job working at a government office, and one of my coworkers, a black woman a little older than myself, was a student at Tallahassee’s other university, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU), an HBCU across town.

I listened many times as she recounted the various grants, scholarships, and other awards that came her way, allowing her to pay for all of her school-related expenses and actually turn a profit. Nice clothes, a new car, jewelry — she had it all, despite working at the same $8-an-hour job that I had. I can still see her shiny, sky-blue Nissan Altima parked in the front row outside the office.

The frustration of listening to her as I juggled a modest budget while receiving no financial aid and getting by on discounted store-brand goods has stayed with me ever since. I am reminded of it when I hear anything about an HBCU, which brings us back to Harris-Stowe State University.

I’ll just let the facts I found online speak for themselves. Here are the broad strokes on this school of just over 1,000 students:

  • Harris-Stowe is the alma mater of both “Squad” member and Democratic Missouri representative Cori Bush, and of Kimberly Gardner, a controversial ex-district attorney in St. Louis.
  • The school has an open-admissions policy, meaning that everyone who applies is admitted, giving it a 100-percent acceptance rate.
  • It reports a graduation rate of 20 percent, but as low as that is, it’s still a bit misleading. That is the school’s eight-year graduation rate. In other words, 20 percent of incoming students graduate within eight years. If this were a commuter school, with lots of part-time students taking evening classes while working and often managing families, that might be understandable, but the school reports that 83 percent of its students are full time.
  • The four-year graduation rate for Harris-Stowe — the standard measure usually applied — is 3 percent.
  • Seventy-five percent of Harris-Stowe students receive federal loans, and their average debt is about $25,000. Within two years of graduation, about 96 percent of all loans are in some form of forbearance, default, deferment, or delinquency. Only 4 percent of graduates are listed as “making progress.” I could find no statistics for students who leave without graduating.

Clearly, this is not a leading academic institution, and such statistics make you wonder how bad it has to be before a school’s accreditation is threatened. Losing accreditation can be a death blow for universities, particularly private ones, because it makes the students at those schools and the school itself ineligible for federal aid.

You won’t be surprised to learn that even when losing accreditation becomes a possibility, there are so many second chances, warnings, and delayed consequences that only schools that are obvious scams need to fear it. A sampling of schools currently threatened with the loss of accreditation indicates just how bad an institution has to be. Those currently threatened include the American Institute of Alternative Medicine, Selma University, and Saint Augustine’s University (an HBCU in North Carolina).

The truth is that a school needs to work hard to put its accreditation in jeopardy, and being placed on probation is an intermediary step that is supposed to allow them to get their house in order. Despite the low bar for remaining accredited, both of Florida’s HBCUs have ongoing issues with accreditation.

The previously mentioned FAMU in Tallahassee has been wrestling with this more or less constantly for the last 15 years. It was placed on probation in 2007 for various rule violations, most of which resulted from its inability to account for millions of dollars of missing inventory and also for some unapproved contractual arrangements.

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (Credit Image: © Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via ZUMA Press Wire)

FAMU’s nursing school — a separate entity from the main university — was placed on probation in 2018 and again in 2021 because of the low scores its students received on the NCLEX, a nursing certification exam. In the years before the probation, FAMU students had achieved an NCLEX pass rate of about 65 percent. (Nationally, the pass rate for first-time test takers was about 85 percent. For test takers in New Hampshire — where blacks comprise less than 2 percent of the population — the pass rate was 96 percent. Go figure.)

Curiously, after consistently posting pass rates in the mid-60s for years, in spring 2023, FAMU reported a pass rate of almost 97 percent, ending the probation that had threatened the program.

FAMU also has a law school, which has dealt with the same accreditation and probation issues affecting the larger university. In 2013, the American Bar Association conducted a study of the law school that found that about 30 percent of students never finished school or took the bar exam. In 2019, of students who graduated from FAMU Law and took the bar exam, 61 percent of first-time test takers passed. (In 2023, the figure for all first-time test takers nationally was 79 percent.)

Similar issues plague Florida’s other large HBCU, Bethune-Cookman College (BCC) in Daytona Beach. Situated incongruously among the bikers and flip-flops, BCC, despite being a private university, somehow is able to secure generous funding from the legislature in Tallahassee. In 2020, Florida appropriated $17.3 million for the college, which is more than $7,500 for each of its roughly 2,200 students. The money came as the school was facing the prospect of shutting down due to “insurmountable debt and a string of lawsuits.”

In 2019, BCC defaulted on $17.5 million in bonds. During legal proceedings brought by creditors, BCC’s total debt was revealed to be in excess of $113 million — from a school that produces only around 400 graduates a year.

The school was placed on probation in 2018 for failing to meet governance standards and for financial mismanagement. The probation was lifted in 2020. BCC had also been placed on probation for four years in the 1990s.

Why are politicians so committed to throwing good money after bad? Why do more than 75 percent of HBCU students get Pell Grants when the figure for all students nationally is 32 percent? Why are so much money and political clout spent on supporting second- or even third-rate schools that produce only 13 percent of all the undergraduate degrees and 5 percent of all the graduate degrees awarded to blacks anyway? How poorly do schools like FAMU and BCC have to perform before we can question their value? Why does Alabama, for example, need 14 HBCUs to serve its 1.3 million blacks?

These are among the many questions we’re not allowed to ask when it comes to HBCUs and blacks generally. The horrible, almost unbelievable performance we get from institutions that have such a sacred position in the world of American education is one of the great unreported scandals of our time.