How HBCUs can help African American K-12 students

K-12 leaders should cultivate support systems, leveraging African American culture and identity and set high expectations
By: | January 22, 2020
Tennessee State University President Brenda Baskin Glover celebrates learning with some young students.Tennessee State University President Brenda Baskin Glover celebrates learning with some young students.

K-12 leaders should look to historically black colleges and universities to adopt strategies to promote the success of African American students, according to a new report, “Imparting Wisdom,” from the United Negro College Fund’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute.

The report outlines best practices that can be used in K-12 schools with demographics similar to HBCUs. “HBCUs have historically proven to be more successful at educating and graduating African American students—especially students from low- to moderate-income households; first-generation college students; or those who’ve had an unequitable K-12 education,” UNCF President and CEO Michael L. Lomax said in a news release.

The report outlines three best practices:

  • Cultivating nurturing support systems: HBCUs promote robust student and faculty interaction, employ diverse faculty, and implement strategies such as intrusive advising to build caring relationships with students.
  • Leveraging African American culture and identity: HBCUs help students develop a strong sense of identity, and promote student engagement and success by incorporating African American cultural elements into campus practices and the curriculum.
  • Setting high expectations: HBCUs offer meaningful mentorship to students and promote graduate school enrollment.

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UNCF hosted the HBCU & K-12 Education Summit in Washington, D.C., this week, to discuss the strategies highlighted in the report. Videos from the summit and other events can be viewed on UNCF’s Facebook page.

Last year, UNCF’s “Punching Above Their Weight” report found that HBCUs enroll and graduate one-quarter of all black college students in the states in which the institutions operate, according to University Bunsiness magazine.

HBCUs comprise just 8.5% of the country’s four-year institutions but award 26% of the bachelor’s degrees and 32% of the STEM degrees earned by black students, the report found.

These types of partnerships have emerged in recent years. The Pipeline Project at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College sends college faculty to help K-12 educators teach students the skills to avoid taking remedial courses in college, District Administration reported in 2018

“It’s a recognition that the problems K-12 and colleges are trying to solve are problems that span the continuum,” Rudy Crew, the president of Medgar Evers College, told DA. “We all need to be better observers of what’s happening to young people as they go through the system.”


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However, HBCUs may be “on the brink of financial ruin,” according to an October article in The Hechinger Report.

Some 15 HBCUs have closed since 1997, and the total endowments of all of these institutions is about 70% smaller than that of non-HBCUs, according to the article. In Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed increasing funding to the state’s two HBCUs, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University, according to the Virginia Mercury. 

Meanwhile, ongoing racial tensions in the country have driven an increase in enrollment at HBCUs, according to research done by The Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

About one-third of HBCUs have experienced record increases in applications and enrollment over the past three years, Rutgers’ report found.


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