How Are Historically Black Colleges Faring?

Tony Cox examines the state of historically black colleges with Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund.

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TONY COX, host:

We get more now on the state of HBCUs from Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. The UNCF is the nation's largest and most successful minority higher education assistance organization. Dr. Lomax previously served as president of Dillard University in New Orleans before accepting his present post. He joins us now by phone from just outside Washington, D.C. Michael, thank you very much for coming on.

Dr. MICHAEL LOMAX (President and CEO, United Negro College Fund): Good to talk to you, Tony.

COX: You are in a very unique position with regard to an overview of the HBCUs and you heard what Representative Johnson just had to say. What - how do you see it from your vantage point?

Dr. LOMAX: Well, let me just underscore what the congresswoman has said; the role of these institutions is as vital and important today as it has ever been. There are 105 Historically Black Colleges. They represent three percent of the colleges and universities in the United States.

Yet, they still produce 25 percent of the college graduates. And 50 percent of all African-Americans who go on to graduate in professional schools got their undergraduate degrees at Historically Black Colleges. These institutions had been the backbone of producing an educated middleclass in the African-American community.

And they continue to be the only institutions of higher education that are unequivocally committed to supporting and giving education to low-income first generation African-Americans.

And you know this country has for centuries, rationed education to black people. It's still is doing that. And it is only these institutions that are struggling - yes, financially - but remaining in the struggle to insure that African-Americans get a fair shake in terms of higher education in this country.

COX: But where is the money going to come from because the cost of going to -even to a HBCU - these costs are rising. And government support - in terms of loans and other types of financial support - is there but it's shrinking or it's beginning to cost the consumer more to take advantage of this support.

Dr. LOMAX: Well, you know, ironically, you know, the Spelling's Commission came out and said: You know, the price of a college education is increasing at a rate far too high, it's pricing youngsters out of the opportunity to go to college. Yet at the same time, the federal government is not increasing PELL grants.

It's making borrowing more expensive. It is not giving increasing support to Historically Black Colleges to insure that they have the technology, the facilities and the research capacity that other institutions are having.

So on the one hand, we got to continue to keep the pressure on the federal government both on the Congress and on the executive branch to do the right thing, which they have not consistently done over the years.

And you know, happily I would say, and I think the congresswoman is absolutely correct, there is bipartisan support for these institutions and that's a good thing. But the United Negro College Fund believes that we've got to appeal to the private and philanthropic community, to individual Americans. We will raise $100 million this year in support of our 39 member institutions. We have created an institute of capacity building, which would strengthen our institutions; will help them improve their fundraising, their financial management; strengthen their curricula; help them revitalize their campuses; and ensure that they have the management and board leadership that is required to make them highly competitive institutions.

So we're not leaving this exclusively to the federal government. We're not letting them off the hook. But we're also going to the private sector and saying, these institutions are critically important to the nation. We've got to support them. And if we want a strong America we've got to have highly educated African-Americans.

COX: Let me jump in and ask you this in the time that we have left, cause our clock is dwindling down. I want to talk specifically about a school that you have some familiarity with - Dillard University - and some of the problems in the New Orleans area, post-Katrina, in terms of getting those schools back up and running effectively.

What can you tell us about the status of those HBCUs there?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, Dillard and Xavier, which are the two private historically back colleges in New Orleans are back up and running. Xavier is back on its campus, they have been back there since last spring. They had 80 percent of their students returning.

Dillard had to operate out of a hotel last, in the spring semester and the summer. They have delayed opening until mid-to-late September, but they should be back on their campus. They have, they were well insured, they have received generous support from the philanthropic community.

The support from the federal government has been slow. I understand another $2 million was just awarded this week from HUD. That's wonderful. But these schools are going to survive and they're going to prosper and we're going to rebuild them. We're not going to lose additional institutions.

COX: Final thing for you - we've got just under a minute. Your view of the future of HBCUs. The congresswoman said it could questionable depending upon the funding. You agree with that, or…?

Mr. LOMAX: Well, you know, funding has always been an issue, but the black community is determined not to lose our institutions. The United Negro College Fund is going to stand steadfast with our private institutions and do all that we can to ensure that they have the financial support to continue to do the critical work of educating future generations of African-Americans, and ensuring that they are competitive, and that this nation is competitive.

And what we need is for the entire nation - public and private - to stand up and support and contribute to historically black colleges.

COX: I appreciate your comments very much. Thank you for being with us. Michael Lomax is president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. Thanks again for being with us.

Also, national HBCU Week ends on Saturday, September 16th. We'll be back.

(Soundbite of Music)

Coming up, should preteen girls get vaccines to protect them from a cancer-causing STD? And a primary race in Maryland may be the last hurrah for a once influential Black politician. We'll discuss these and other topics on our roundtable next.

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