America’s College Promise and HBCUs
Ivory A. Toldson
Recently, President Obama unveiled a proposal to offer free community college tuition for all Americans who maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program. Today, community colleges educate more African American undergraduate students than any other higher education provider. So, this policy can lead to significant increases in the number of students who transfer to four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, including many students who had not been accepted for first-time admission to a four-year college.
Currently, twelve of the 100 Title IV participating HBCUs are community colleges and would benefit directly from President Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal. These colleges are: Bishop State Community College (AL); Gadsden State Community College (AL); H Councill Trenholm State Technical College (AL); Hinds Community College (MS); J F Drake State Community and Technical College (AL); Lawson State Community College-Birmingham Campus (AL); Shelton State Community College (AL); Southern University at Shreveport (LA); Coahoma Community College (MS); Denmark Technical College (SC); St Philip’s College (TX); and Shorter College (AR).
However, four-year HBCUs have as much to gain from the America’s College Promise as community colleges. Today, community colleges educate a large number of students who could not otherwise gain admissions to four-year HBCUs due to new, tougher admissions criteria at many colleges and universities. Over the last ten years, state laws or board policies have restricted admissions at traditional four-year colleges, including state HBCUs, based on the premise that less academically prepared students should start their postsecondary experience at a community college. These changes range from setting a minimum ACT or SAT requirement for public universities, to prohibiting public four-year colleges from offering remedial classes. According to The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, 65 of the 100 HBCUs that qualify for Federal Student Financial Aid have selective admissions, while the remaining 34 campuses have open admissions. Only 4 of the 34 open admissions HBCUs are 4-year public institutions.
The America’s College Promise proposal can supplement the changes already occurring at four-year HBCUs by covering the cost of tuition during the years that students are receiving remedial developmental education. In addition, the proposal would require states to maintain or increase existing higher education investments, as a condition of participating in this historic federal program. This means the Administration’s proposal would both supplement state higher education budgets and safeguard state HBCUs from budget cuts.
Finally, the America’s College Promise proposal can inspire more articulation agreements between HBCUs and community colleges, and possibly expand out-of-state enrollment at HBCUs. Twenty U.S. states and one U.S. territory are home to HBCUs. However, even states with no HBCUs recognize the potential of these unique and distinguished institutions to provide support to Black community college transfer students. For example, the California Community Colleges system has taken a historic step towards advancing transfer partnerships with HBCUs though a memorandum of understanding, which will be ceremonially signed by selected HBCU presidents at the California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting in Sacramento.
In short, the America’s College Promise proposal would help to complement and strengthen the efforts of America’s HBCUs, by: providing direct support to the 12 percent of HBCUs that are community colleges; mitigating selective admissions requirements by providing free developmental support to students that four-year HBCUs may have initially been required to reject; and supporting and expanding articulation agreements between HBCUs and community colleges across the nation.
America’s College Promise is a win-win for community colleges and HBCUs — and for the nation’s students.
Ivory A. Toldson, Ph.D., was appointed by President Barack Obama to be the deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. He is currently on leave from his position as associate professor at Howard University. He is also contributing educational editor for The Root. Follow him on twitter @toldson.