Episode 117: The Best Case for Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

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We know that some of you are still discussing which college your teenager should attend next fall, and we are sure that, by now, you are tired of re-listening to Episodes 69, 70, 71, and 114 of USACollegeChat–all of which we hoped would guide you through these difficult days. So, we thought we would let someone else do the talking today. Not us, but rather a college student–one we found to be remarkably insightful.

This episode will also start a new series, which we are calling Colleges in the Spotlight. Now, to be honest, I am not sure that we can sustain this series for very long, but we do have a few colleges or types of colleges we find ourselves wanting to put the spotlight on because of what they are doing. You will recall that we took a close look at Georgia State University back in Episode 103, and now I wished that we had saved it for this series. If you can’t remember the impressive stuff we said about Georgia State, you should go back and listen again. Really.

Today’s spotlight is on Spelman College and indeed on HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) generally; therefore, the episode is especially relevant for students of color, but not just for black students. You might recall that we talked about the enrollment of HBCUs back in Episode 100. We noted then that HBCU enrollment seemed to be on the rise and that HBCUs were also becoming more attractive to Latino students for a variety of reasons, which were well described in our episode.

And, if you were with us way back in Episode 30, you might recall that we highlighted Spelman, a well-respected all-female liberal arts college, founded by Baptist leaders, which offers 27 majors to just over 2,000 undergraduate women, drawn from most states across the country (with our home state of New York as one of the top five states sending students to Spelman). Spelman has an enviable student-to-faculty ratio of 10-to-1, meaning that students should typically be in small classes and get close attention from faculty members.

For those of you with seniors and with a letter from an HBCU in your stack of college acceptances (maybe even from Spelman!), this episode is for you. And for those of you with freshmen, sophomores, or juniors at home, this episode should make you think twice.

1. Ms. Mitchell’s Piece

As our regular listeners can probably recite by now because we frequently find ourselves talking on this topic, HBCUs were founded to serve students who had previously been excluded from many other higher education institutions because of their race. The three earliest HBCUs were founded in Pennsylvania and Ohio before the Civil War, but many were founded in the South shortly after the Civil War. Those Southern HBCUs share a proud tradition of becoming the first colleges to provide higher education to the family members of freed slaves. Over the years, HBCUs have produced extraordinary leaders in every field of endeavor and thousands and thousands of well-educated American citizens.

Today’s focus is on an opinion piece published in The New York Times by Skylar Mitchell earlier this month. It is part of the On Campus series in the Times?”dispatches from college students, professors and administrators on higher education and university life” (quoted from the website). That makes two weeks in a row we have used the On Campus series to bring you an insight that we thought was extraordinary. Last week, the piece was written by a college admissions office staffer, but this week it is written by an actual college student. And now we are going to stop giving the Times free advertising unless it wants to start sponsoring the podcast.

Because Ms. Mitchell wrote her piece in her own voice, with a rare combination of thinking and feeling for a college sophomore, I would like to read it to you in its entirety. It is not long, but you won’t forget it anytime soon. Her voice is, quite obviously, not our voice, so here are Ms. Mitchell’s own words from “Why I Chose a Historically Black College.” Listen on the podcast or follow this link to read her essay.

For once in my life, I have absolutely nothing to add. She speaks eloquently for herself.

2. Think Again

Ms. Mitchell obviously did a great job in choosing colleges to apply to, and we have tried again and again to emphasize how important that step is. Choosing colleges to apply to is every bit as important as choosing which college to attend–probably more so.

And I believe that Ms. Mitchell did get into some great ones, if Swarthmore and Spelman are any indications. What she had, obviously, were options. And regardless of whether your teenager is as smart as Ms. Mitchell must be, what you need are options. Remember that, parents of freshmen and sophomores and juniors.

And, finally, we will say this one more time at USACollegeChat: Think hard about putting an HBCU on your teenager’s list of possibilities. If we couldn’t convince you before, surely Ms. Mitchell has.

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