As academics determined to make a crucial difference with our research that goes beyond publication in peer-reviewed journal articles, we love when journalists solicit our views on topics we’ve devoted to. our career looking. This enthusiasm was at its height when, on two occasions, a reporter contacted the first author to inquire about how President Biden’s plan for a tuition-free community college, stemming from his 3,500 reconciliation package. billion dollars, could have an impact on student enrollment in historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). After a series of conversations with reporters on this topic, the first author contacted the second author to indicate that he was concerned that HBCUs were being confused with community colleges. This sparked a long conversation about the need to write about why it’s problematic to bring HBCUs and community colleges together. When the question arises as to how the creation of access opportunities in community colleges could specifically disadvantage HBCUs, this is exactly what is happening, consciously or unconsciously, HBCUs are lumped together with community colleges. Certainly, like community colleges, some HBCUs enroll students who are academically under-prepared and are mission-oriented to meet students where they are academically. Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that HBCUs are not a monolith, as are a range of diverse institutions, including predominantly white institutions (PWIs), with different missions and institutional selectivity. Some HBCUs such as Morehouse College, Howard University, and Spelman College, among others, are very selective and others have relaxed admission standards.
Additionally, there is a range of institutions that have relaxed admission standards. For example, many institutions serving minorities (MSIs), such as Hispanic serving institutions, predominantly black institutions, and Pacific Islander American Indian serving institutions, not only function as colleges. community-based, but a number of four-year MSIs have non-selective admission standards. Since the mission of many of these institutions is guided by principles of social justice and racial upliftment, they intend to maintain non-selective admission criteria to promote access to post-secondary education for racially minority students. Given the diverse landscape of higher education, we are certain that a range of PWIs operate as open access institutions. However, it’s worth noting that when conversations take place about tuition-free community colleges, discussions abound as to how this might affect HBCUs, regardless of the impact it will have on some of the types of college. The schools mentioned, especially other MSIs, as they disproportionately enroll a large share of racial minority students.
To a large extent, however, colleges in general should be concerned about how a plan for a tuition-free community college might hamper student enrollment. For example, some research noted that student enrollments are on the decline at community colleges due to uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, others research said some students who attended institutions four years before the pandemic were taking online classes at their local community college as it saved them money during the pandemic. This research found that some students made a commitment to continue their education at online community college if their four-year institution did not resume in-person learning. Since community colleges are more affordable, more students may be inclined to attend community colleges for their first two years of college before moving to a four-year institution to save money if community colleges were free. Therefore, a plan for a tuition-free community college may pose a threat to student enrollments for higher education institutions in general and not for one type of institution in particular.
Additionally, it is important to note that affordability is only one of many factors that motivate students to enroll in certain types of institutions. Others include institutional fit and a person’s ability to fit into the academic and social fabric of the institution. The latter is the reason black students choose to attend HBCUs. Research has consistently shown that students who attend HBCUs seek an educational experience centered on their lived experiences. HBCUs routinely score well when examining whether black students feel connected to the school community and how they behave after graduation. Their post-baccalaureate success has been documented by the findings of a report on minority college graduates of the Gallup-USA Funds as well as other studies. Without a doubt, HBCUs play a vital role in the education of black college students and other first generation students.
In addition, we must recognize that there are a small number of HBCUs that are community colleges. However, it is problematic for individuals to confuse tuition-free community college programs with the success of HBCUs. Earlier we pointed out that there are HBCUs with different acceptance rates and assignments. This point is often lost when discussing HBCUs. Additionally, we need to consider how the comparison or confusion between HBCUs and community colleges is rooted in anti-darkness. You see, no matter how prominent former HBCU graduates are, they will always come across individuals who believe (explicitly or implicitly) that they are providing an inferior education. How we combat these misconceptions should be taken into account when discussing proposed policy changes.
Dr. Robert T. Palmer is Professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Political Studies at the School of Education at Howard University.
Dr. Larry J. Walker is Assistant Professor and Liaison Officer for the EdD Program in the Department of Educational Leadership and Higher Education at the University of Central Florida.