HBCU Relevancy - Johnny Taylor

HBCU Relevancy? A Glance at U.S. Demographics Provides Answer
September 9, 2015 | :
by Johnny C. Taylor Jr.
Johnny Taylor <http://diverseeducation.com/wpcontent/uploads/2015/09/091015_Johnny_Taylor.jpg>
Johnny Taylor
Not a week goes by where those of us in the HBCU community are
confronted with the question of the continued relevancy of HBCUs.
We’ve heard them all: Do we still need HBCUs in a post-racial
America? Isn’t it reverse discrimination to have race-based
colleges like HBCUs? Does the education provided at HBCUs compare
in quality and rigor to the non-HBCUs?
All too o­ften we find ourselves “defending” our existence and
relevancy with some version of the following two-step: first, we
highlight our most famous alums: Justice Thurgood Marshall
(Lincoln University and Howard University Law School); civil
rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (Morehouse); HARPO CEO and
media proprietor Oprah Winfrey (Tennessee State University); and
Black Enterprise publisher Earl G. Graves (Morgan State
Then, we roll out the stats that describe how many AfricanAmericans are HBCU graduates: 22 percent of bachelor’s degree
holders; 40 percent of members of Congress; 12.5 percent of CEOs;
40 percent of engineers; 50 percent of professors at non-HBCUs;
50 percent of lawyers; and 80 percent of judges. Without a doubt,
the data are clear: HBCUs are iconic institutions that will
forever be historically significant and relevant. Different
questions are being asked now, though: Are HBCUs currently
Are they relevant today?
The truth of the matter is that a very compelling case can be
made that HBCUs are actually more relevant and necessary today.
As America “browns and grays,” HBCUs are uniquely positioned to
educate an America where people of color will need to fill the
corporate boardrooms, government offices, judicial chambers, K-12
classrooms and hospital operating rooms. Our past success
educating people of color—many of whom entered college with
academic deficiencies resulting from poor secondary school
preparation—is a strong indication of our ability to deliver
positive outcomes; the question is how we will transform
ourselves to deliver career-ready and globally prepared talent in
a 21st century postsecondary environment that is being up-ended
and disrupted at every turn.
I met with a senior U.S. government executive not long ago who
put it best: “I looked at me and my other [White] colleagues
during a meeting the other day and said: ‘There are not enough of
our children to replace us. We must find a way to develop
minority students if America is to remain the world leader.’”
He came to my office in an effort to determine how the federal
government could utilize the HBCU pipeline to solve a real
dilemma—one resulting from the undeniable fact that racial and
ethnic minorities now surpass Whites as the largest number of
American children under 5 years old.
This wasn’t a discussion about turning to HBCUs because it was
the right and moral thing to do. There was no mention of
correcting the lingering impact of slavery and the failure to
make reparations. No, the discussion was one about necessity.
America is realizing HBCU survival is a matter of national
security; if we can’t find American talent, we will have to
import it—and that comes with all sorts of complexities, expenses
and potentially negative consequences.
The strongest argument for HBCU relevancy today, therefore, lies
in the fact that the HBCU community is home to more than 350,000
future workers and leaders. As opposed to begging for donations
to help our historically underfunded institutions survive, let’s
make the case for investments to make them thrive. We must speak
in terms of return on investment (ROI) when we respond to the
question of HBCU relevancy today. For example, if an employer
invests just $20,000 per year in a student attending a publicly
supported TMCF-member school, we will deliver a talented,
confident, and productive human resource—a simple value
proposition that we know resonates.
Earlier this year, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund pitched
this idea to a company we all know well, Apple. We asked Apple
executives to invest in HBCU faculty and students in return for
access to a robust and highly talented pipeline of future
engineers and entrepreneurs. In a March 10, 2015, Fortune
magazine story, Apple announced it liked this “thoughtful”
approach and would commit tens of millions of dollars to build
this pipeline. Today, our HBCU community has an opportunity to
prove to the world that we are not just historically significant;
we are currently relevant. HBCUs have a unique opportunity to
change the conversation about why they need to exist and are a
really smart “investment” for America.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is president and CEO of the Thurgood
Marshall College Fund (TMCF), a nonprofit advocacy organization
named for the U.S. Supreme Court’s first African-American
justice. Founded in 1987, TMCF supports and represents nearly
300,000 students attending its 47 member schools that include
publicly supported historically Black colleges and universities
(HBCUs), medical schools and law schools. For more information on
TMCF programs, visit tmcf.org.