Hurray for HBCUs

I want to use a story from my high-school past to introduce this month’s column.

Ruth Cheloff, my high-school senior English teacher, often took time out in class to encourage us to go on to college.

She raved about the Ivy League schools, Ohio and Kent State universities and Youngstown State.

On this particular day, however, student John Lee could stand it no longer. He raised his hand to speak, and in strong, measured words, began chastising Mrs. Cheloff for never talking about the values of historically black colleges and universities.

“You are always talking about Yale and Princeton, but what about Howard and Fisk universities? I never hear you talking about Morehouse College, Mrs. Cheloff. Do you even know these schools exist?”

I remember this dialogue so clearly after nearly 47 years because Mrs. Cheloff had no real answer to John’s questions. She stammered, I recall, that those schools were good, and we should consider them as well. I don’t recall her speaking on our college pathways again.

John, indeed, did end up at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

According to an essay by Samara Freemark about historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, after the Civil War, African-American education blossomed. Black ministers and white philanthropists established schools all across the South to educate freed slaves.

I recently received an email and news release that said America’s HBCUs inject billions of dollars in economic impact into the national economy, according to “HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a landmark study released by the United Negro College Fund.

The impact described in the report, released last month, includes almost $15 billion annually in economic impact.

Offering data by institution, as well as a national analysis, the UNCF study – underwritten by Citi Foundation and prepared by the University of Georgia’s Selig Center for Economic Growth – also reports HBCUs significantly increase local and national job creation and economic development.

Here are a couple of examples from the study:

Total economic impact of HBCU spending in the United States is $14.8 billion annually; the equivalent to a ranking in the top 200 corporations on the Fortune 500 list.

Every dollar spent by an HBCU and its students generates $1.44 in initial and subsequent spending for the institution’s local and regional economies; particularly significant as many HBCUs are in southern communities where overall economic growth has lagged.

HBCUs generate roughly 134,000 jobs for their local and regional economies, including on-campus and off-site jobs, equating to approximately 13 jobs created for each $1 million initially spent by HBCUs.

HBCU graduates, more than 50,000 in 2014, can expect work-life earnings of $130 billion – an additional $927,000 per graduate – 56 percent more than they could expect to earn without their HBCU degrees or certificates.

“This study is conclusive evidence that HBCUs not only provide a college education for 300,000 students every year, but they are a powerful economic engine: locally, through the jobs they create and the expenditures they make in the cities where they are located, and nationally, through the students they educate and prepare for an information-age workforce,” Dr. Michael L. Lomax, UNCF president and CEO, said.

HBCUs have long been bastions of academic achievement – it is clear to see the value of HBCUs is not solely confined to economic impacts.

HBCUs are 3 percent of America’s public and private nonprofit colleges that receive federal student aid, but enroll 10 percent of black undergraduates, award 17 percent of black bachelor’s degrees and award 24 percent of black STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) bachelor’s degrees.

There are now 101 HBCUs in the U.S., including public and private institutions. Two are in Ohio – Central State and Wilberforce universities.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Morehouse graduate. Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, black sociologist, historian, civil-rights activist and author, was a Fisk University graduate. Mary McLeod Bethune founded what would become Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla. Filmmaker Spike Lee, Oprah Winfrey, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall all graduated from HBCUs.

“HBCUs are developing our next generation of business and civic leaders. These impactful institutions have long contributed to the fabric of our nation and continue to fuel economic progress, which has a profound ripple effect on the strength of our families, communities and businesses,” Brandee McHale, president, Citi Foundation, said.

To read the full report, visit

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly minority-affairs column. Contact him at