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In the United States, the likelihood of black students being paired with black school counselors is low.
Traditionally, students are paired with guidance counselors by last name — in an arbitrary, rather than thoughtful, manner.
Many counselors perpetuate the notion that predominately white institutions are preeminent institutions of higher education. But it’s dangerous for students to believe that historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, are inferior. That is a belief that reveals ignorance about HBCUs.
If educators care about black student success beyond high school, we ought to expose black students to HBCUs. School counselors must be aware of the existence of HBCUs, and they should introduce HBCUs to black students and other students of color.
Increasing the number of black educators in K-12 spaces is essential. But it is equally important that white educators, specifically guidance counselors, provide black students with an awareness of all of their options for higher education and the best opportunities for postsecondary academic success. Here are some practical ways for all guidance counselors to do exactly that:
First, educators must familiarize themselves with HBCUs and what they mean for black student success. There are 102 HBCUs nationwide. Although they represent fewer than 3 percent of all U.S. colleges and universities, they are responsible for awarding 18 percent of all degrees earned by black undergraduates.
HBCUs graduate more black students from low-income backgrounds than predominately white colleges, according to the Education Trust. That’s because HBCUs disproportionately enroll low-income, first-generation and academically underprepared college students — precisely the students whom the country most needs to obtain college degrees. The percentage of first-time, full-time undergraduate Pell grant recipients at HBCUs is 79 percent.
Among black people, HBCU alumni account for 12.5 percent of CEOs, 40 percent of members of Congress, 50 percent of lawyers and 80 percent of judges. HBCU students account for 25 percent of black undergraduates who earn degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
And if you think HBCUs are only for black people, you should know tht non-black enrollment at HBCUs is 24 percent.
Second, educators must familiarize themselves with the history and purpose of HBCUs. Contrary to what Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said, HBCUs are not “pioneers” of school choice.
HBCUs were established prior to the 1960s to provide higher education to black people at a time in which they could not attend predominantly white institutions. For much of American history, it was against the law to teach blacks how to read and write. The doctrine of separate but equal made segregation the law of the land. HBCUs were never a “choice.” They were a reaction to racist policies in a white-supremacist society.
The only “school choice” that black people had with regard to higher education was either attending an HBCU or not attending college at all.
Third, educators must understand the power of black spaces in education. Black students who attend an HBCU don’t do so to self-segregate. They do so because they seek a safe space in which they can receive academic support and cultural affirmation.
Schools tend to be what Wendy Leo Moore has called “white institutional space” — social spaces in which the demographics and cultural norms privilege whites. HBCUs aren’t such spaces. They are unapologetically black spaces, exposing and expressing black history and culture to affirm black identity and excellence as a norm. In addition, 57 perent of faculty at HBCUs identify as black, whereas nationally blacks make up only 5.5 percent of college faculty.
According to a 2019 Rutgers University study, racial tensions nationwide during the Trump administration have led to a rise in black enrollment in HBCUs. Theresa Price, founder and chief executive of the National College Resources Foundation (which hosts the Black College Expo), has said that students are increasingly coming to see HBCUs as a “safe haven” from racist views that she says are more openly expressed since Donald Trump became president.
Fourth, HBCUs should be incorporated as part of yearly guidance programs and initiatives. HBCUs are accessible to all students through various means. There is an HBCU common application, similar to the national common application, with 56 member schools. Also, there are HBCU college fairs throughout the country. For example, the Malcolm Bernard Historically Black Colleges and Universities College Fair is the largest HBCU college fair on the East Coast, with a track record of attracting nearly 12,000 students each year.
There are also tours conducted of HBCUs. Black College Tours take high school students to some of the most prestigious HBCUs in the nation. While there is a cost, the tour sells out each year. There are various scholarship programs specifically for students who attend or plan to attend HBCUs, such as the HBCU Foundation, the United Negro College Fund, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.
All of these should be regular parts of the conversation with black students when guidance counselors discuss college options and sources of assistance. HBCUs, like black award shows, black publications and black art, exist because blackness was never considered on par with whiteness. Failure to recommend HBCUs to black students during the college application process is educational malpractice and an admission, whether explicit or implicit, that black educational institutions are not on par with white educational institutions.
This story about HBCUs and the guidance gap was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.
Rann Miller directs a 21st Century Community Learning Center in southern New Jersey, one of 63 federally funded after-school programs in the state. He spent six years teaching in charter schools in Camden, New Jersey. Miller is also the creator, writer and editor of the Official Urban Education Mixtape Blog.