TONY COX, host:
The Oakridge, Oregon, school system notwithstanding, schools in many small towns are struggling with the economy, and colleges and universities across the country are also seeing reduced endowments and smaller donations. Historically black colleges and universities are being hit especially hard. Plus, during a bad economy, the question arises whether or not it's even worth it to go to college or affordable as well. The Academy Awards were held last night, another story we're going to tackle. Two African-American actresses were nominated, but neither took home an award. What does this mean for black actors and actresses in Hollywood? Joining me to discuss all of these issues on our bloggers' roundtable today are Shaun King of the blog Shaun in the City; Sharon Toomer, founder and managing editor of blackandbrownnews.com; and Anthony Bradley, who blogs at The Institute. Hello, everybody.
Ms. SHARON D. TOOMER (Founder and Editor, blackandbrownnews.com): Hello. Good morning.
Mr. SHAUN KING (Blogger, Shaun in the City): Hey, Tony.
Dr. ANTHONY BRADLEY (Blogger, The Institute): Hi, Tony.
COX: Hey, nice to have you all. We just heard how a small-town school district is shifting things to try to improve the education, but let's talk about historically black colleges for a moment, where they're trying to improve education as well, but the economy is really hitting them hard. Sharon, your alma matter, Spellman, one of the wealthiest historically black colleges, had to eliminate 35 staff jobs and is projecting a $4.8 million deficit. That's not good news.
Ms. TOOMER: It's bad, bad news. And you're right; we're one of the - well, Spellman's one of the fortunate college - historically black colleges and universities in that we have a healthy endowment. But you're not supposed to tap into your endowment for operating expenses. And so, it just goes to tell you that none of these schools - I don't care how wealthy they are or how prestigious they are - are immune from this economic climate. And that's always been the case with HBCUs. That's - it's not just a result of this economic climate we're in. It has always been the case of survival of these schools.
COX: Well, Anthony, who supposed to support these HBCUs? Is it the students? Is it the community? Is it the government? Is it the corporations who recruit them for jobs? Who is supposed to put their money into these campuses?
Mr. KING: That's a great question, Tony. I would argue that all of those parties have a role to play. The fact of the matter is that if we look at the economics, many HBCUs are simply more expensive than the community college. For example, here in St. Louis, Harris-Stowe is about a $164 per credit hour and St. Louis Community College is $83 per credit hour. And so, a lot of students are having to make a decision about whether or not having a unique black experience at the collegiate level is worth the money. Also, we find that a lot of universities are too dependent on tuition dollars to cover their operating budgets, and development departments, I would argue, need to think more creatively about bringing in different revenue streams so that they can make that experience affordable.
COX: You know, that's an interesting point, Shaun, that he makes, because going to an HBCU, certainly to a Spelman or to a Morehouse - and I imagine to a Howard as well - they're not shaped by any stretch of the imagination.
Mr. KING: Yeah, I hear you, man, and I'm a graduate of Morehouse College and...
COX: Well then, you know what I'm saying.
Mr. KING: All the schools - yeah, all the schools here in Atlanta are really struggling, particularly Clark Atlanta really had to shake up their entire schedule, and it's right, the schools are so - even Morehouse and Spelman and Howard and FAMU are so reliant upon tuition. Like at Clark Atlanta this semester, hundreds of students, almost 400 students surprisingly didn't come back for the spring semester, and the school was just shocked. And so they had to totally rework the schedule. And it's kind of the thing that people say when America gets a cold, black folk get a flu, and that really affects black colleges in a major way. And so I'm thinking a few black colleges may close during this recession or may come together with traditional or predominantly white universities. They're considering that here in Georgia and Savannah, but it's tough. It's definitely having a major impact on the schools.
COX: But certainly it's happening in other places with universities that may not be HBCUs. Here in California there are none, but there are schools that are predominant - the population is predominantly minority, and they are beginning to coalition with larger, more financially stable universities. Sharon, my last question on this topic to you is what can be done, do you think? What is the best thing that we need to do to try keep to these schools going?
Ms. TOOMER: Well, first, Tony, I have to say this, that with, you know, Atlanta and the consortium there is a very unique situation. We've got the oldest and largest consortium of historically black colleges and universities. They were responsible for - and I'm not just counting numbers, this is - I've been saying this for many, many years. They were once responsible for producing 75 percent of our black middle class. So along with alumni involvement and seeing these universities as critical to our community and in the education of our students, I would like to see corporate, philanthropic students, former students, alumni and the general community, meaning the Atlanta community, although I hear Atlanta's just like everybody else, just is not doing well. So, I think it's a collective effort to ensure that like - Morris Brown should not have its water shut off. I understand they have some budget issue - you know, they've got some management issues, they always have. But to have our schools go without water should be unacceptable.
COX: Anthony, let's talk about you for a moment because you are currently in graduate school. Is that correct?
Mr. BRADLEY: I actually recently graduated in the last year or so.
COX: Well, here's the issue, I want you to speak to it. The cost of going to school, whether it's an HBCU or a majority-white school - set that aside for a second. How difficult a decision is it for young people now, looking at what it does cost to go and the loans that they have to accrue, how much sense does it make to put yourself in that kind of debt now to get a degree or an advanced degree?
Mr. BRADLEY: Yeah, that's a great question. I've been - as the reality of my loan repayments hit me, I began to question whether or not it was worth it. And looking back, of course, everything depends on what one believes the purpose of education is. If the purpose of going to college and grad school is just to make money, it's actually not worth it, because you can go to tech school and learn how to do some computer stuff and make a lot of money. However, if the point of your education is to broaden your learning, that is to be in a community of teachers and scholars, to experience your own learning and to discover other areas of knowledge, then it is worth it. And it's really a matter of weighing the cost of essentially mortgaging your education over 30 years to pay it off.
COX: Well, Shaun, does it makes sense during tough economic times to maybe place college on hold, to save money for college instead of taking out expensive loans by going now?
Mr. KING: No, no, I don't think that makes sense at all, man, because one, the cost of tuition and the cost of attending college is going to continue to rise, and so it's not like it's going to be cheaper four or five years from. And for a lot students being able to live on campus in a kind of safe, secure environment is much more stable than taking a risk and trying to find a job in the job market.
I'm with you, I understand that some students, as always, need to kind of consider some alternative paths, but I think if there was ever a great time to make sure students are enrolled in college, it's right now. I mean, we need more students in college and schools need to continue to be finding ways - we said it just a second ago - to create additional streams of revenue during this recession.
Most black colleges, their entire endowments were caught up in the stock market, and so, black colleges have found their endowments have plummeted by 20 and 30 and 40 percent. And when they already had small endowments, it's dangerous, so we're going to have to be creative, man.
COX: Well, Sharon, I'm going to ask you to think about this question and then we're going to go to a break and I'm going to come back to get your answer. What you would advise a young person to do who's coming out of high school now who cannot afford from their own family's resources to pay for college and who would be looking at anywhere from 50, 60, 70, $80,000 indebtedness in order to go to college and whether it's worth it for them to do that. But all of you, I want you to just hold on, we're going to take a quick break, we're going to come back and continue this conversation in just a few moments.
I'm Tony Cox and this is News & Notes. We are back now with our bloggers roundtable. Joining us today, Shaun King of the blog "Shaun in the City," Sharon Toomer, founder and managing editor of blackandbrownnews.com, and Anthony Bradley, who blogs at "The Institute." Before the break we were talking about the cost of going to college and whether it is worth it, considering what the expense is for people who have to take out loans that could tie them up financially for many, many years to go.
Sharon, I asked you to think about what you would advise a young person to do, looking at - putting that kind of indebtedness on their back. What would you say?
Ms. TOOMER: I would extend this also to parents, Tony, that - let's say your dream for your child is that you sent them away, you saved all your, you know, your working years to create this, you know, this nest for them to go, and they can't go. I just recommend that if that's the case, stay academically engaged. And you can do that by taking classes in a structured environment, whether it's a local community college, but - and then see what happens in years to come. But I would not suggest just completely staying out of the academic environment. So that would be my advice.
COX: So there's a balance. You don't want to stay out of the academic environment and yet you don't want to put yourself $100,000, $120,000 in the hole either. Is that right or am I putting words in your mouth?
Ms. TOOMER: That's right. And things could change in a couple of years. You're not - you know, you're not - it's not etched in stone that you stay in that place. But if you take yourself out of the academic arena, more than likely you're not going to go back. So, I just don't think it's healthy if you - to just not be engaged at all. And what I mean - and structured, so not one class but several classes. If you can do that at a community level, community college level.
COX: Absolutely. It's a tough situation.
Ms. TOOMER: It is.
COX: Let's move on to another topic. Last night, of course, were the Academy Awards here in Los Angeles. A fairly predictable "Slumdog" took away the award for best picture. Kate Winslet, Best Actress for her role in "The Reader." Two African-Americans were nominated this year in the Best Supporting Actress category, Viola Davis for her role in "Doubt" and Taraji Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." So Viola Davis was a favorite, actually, before the awards were announced for her performance as the mother of a boy who may have an inappropriate relationship with a priest.
(Soundbite of movie "Doubt")
Ms. VIOLA DAVIS: (As Mrs. Miller) My boy came to your school because they were going to kill him in the public school. His father don't like him. He come to your school, kids don't like him. One man is good to him, this priest. Then does a man have his reasons? Yes. Everybody does. You have your reasons. But do I ask the man why he's good to my son?
COX: Well, Anthony, you know, African-American actors were on a roll there for a while. Halle Berry, Denzel, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Hudson last year, but not this time.
Mr. BRADLEY: No, not this time. And it probably just exposes the fact that for a lot of movie houses, I mean, they're simply making decisions about what kind of roles can be cast by people that will make us lots of money. And as the market changes in terms of the kinds of movies that people want to watch, it's certainly going to affect the kinds of actors that are chosen to play certain roles.
COX: Well, now, it's interesting that you should mention the kind of movies that people want to watch. Shaun King, the kind of movies that people wanted to watch over the weekend included "Madea Goes to Jail," opened number one in the box office, $41.1 million. Not a movie you're likely to see ever considered for an Academy Award.
Mr. KING: (Laughing) No. I think that's the point we're making is that while there are a lot of black films out there, nobody is really making legitimate argument - and I'm not going to make it today because that would be hilarious, that Tyler Perry or "Madea Goes to Jail" needs to be nominated for an Academy Award. But I think it does illustrate a point that - I mean, I was watching it with family and friends last night, watching Oscars and sort of kind of scratching our heads because there really were not a whole lot of quality roles out there for black men and women that were Oscar-worthy. And I'm not saying that they weren't some that could have been considered, but I think the issue is what types of roles are black folks still getting. But I think even this discussion may overshadow something that's really great and a lot of people of color won great awards last night - Latino, Indian, people of all colors and hues and backgrounds and sexual persuasions were represented last night. And so black folk didn't win any awards last night but there were still some great things that happened.
COX: Absolutely. Did you watch it, Sharon?
Ms. TOOMER: I did. I did, some of it, you know, going back and forth. Penelope Cruz, she's a Latina, who won the award. Shaun's right. There are a lot of people of color who did win in several categories. For - I just - I don't know when Hollywood's going to get it. I just - if the role doesn't specifically say for a black actor then does that just discount your acting craft, your ability to - you know, Don Cheadle is a great actor who can be in anything.
Mr. BRADLEY: Sure.
Ms. TOOMER: He can play any role. So, it speaks more to just this unwillingness to really broaden the opportunities for people of, or actors of color period, or people of color in the business.
COX: And I don't want to underplay at all the significance of winning an Academy Award, obviously it's a pinnacle in a lot of ways. But it seems as if black actors are really, you know, they really are trying hard to get that for validation of their careers. Do you see that, Anthony?
Mr. BRADLEY: Absolutely. I mean, it's sort of the standard of approval, the final vetting that I have achieved some recognizable success in my vocation. It's also important to remember that the types of movies that win these awards are generally the types of movies that audiences want to connect to in terms of looking at a person saying, could that be me, or I rather, I could see myself in that position or that role. And the fact of the matter is that the markets predominantly serviced by white Americans and they pay to go watch movies so they can see people that look like and live like and act like them, or at least they pay to see movies that they can sort of somehow imagine themselves in those positions, and sort of seeing an African-American in those, in that spot, is what would require some intellectual juggling to accept that. And I believe the movie producers know that.
COX: Well, we'll have to wait and see what happens this time next year. Thank you all very much. Good reporters - good bloggers roundtable today. That was Shaun King of the blog "Shaun in the City." He joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Sharon Toomer, founder and managing editor of blackandbrownnews.com joining us from WNYC in New York. And Anthony Bradley, who blogs at the Institute, he joined us from the studios of KWMU in St. Louis.