The Decline and Extinction of Historically Black Colleges and Universities
I just read about the imminent closure of Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, an Historically Black College with a 125-year history. Apparently, the institution has ultimately succumbed to long term fiscal, institutional and accreditation difficulties without finding adequate resources to resolve those difficulties. Although one innovative attempt for resolution came at the proposal of a sister institution – St. Augustine’s Universitty of Raleigh, North Carolina to acquire the property and facilities and merge St. Paul’s as a satellite campus of St. Augustine’s. According to a post in Diverse Issues in Higher Education, although that proposal had been withdrawn, St. Augustine’s has agreed to an appeal on May 31.
Many of America’s over 140 HBCUs, such as St. Augustine’s, St. Paul’s and sister institution Voorhees College – were formed by church organizations or other philanthropic organizations especially in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War and the entry of the Freedmen as a distinct population group into the American social fabric. The institutions served the goal and vision of helping to usher the newly freed population into the mainstream of the American society, albeit as a ward of the nation rather than a fully functional and participating citizen. Throughout their history, these institutions have provided the education foundation for Black Americans in particular, and especially during the era of institutional segregation and Jim Crow practices that were prevalent in America’s southern states. And present-day HBCUs have much more productive diversification policies than other prominent “institutions.” One wonders if the kind of tension and concerns recently voiced at UCLA in 2012 would arise arise at any HBCU.
In spite of the tremendous institutional and social challenges that they had faced throughout their storied history, America’s HBCU had produced graduates in all endeavors, including Medicine, Engineering and Agricultural Sciences. To see an institution such as Saint Paul’s now face the closing of it’s doors is an indictment on the whole of American society, and not just the sad closing of a chapter in the history and legacy of America’s Black and minority populations.
What is more tragic? The lack of sustained support from the very organizations that established these institutions in the first place, or the almost absence of continued support from the dozens of minority celebrities, business people and institutions who could quite possibly provide sufficient stimulus to help these institutions continue to thrive, and even evolve for better service. According to the article mentioned above, Saint Paul’s College had actually served this purpose by providing education opportunities for low-income students, many of whom were first generation post-secondary students. The institution also provided education opportunities and even living arrangements for teen parents. So, the tragedy of the closing of their doors will have even wider-reaching implications for at least two generations.
The closing of any institution – education, social or community service – is not only a blow to whatever community that is served, but it also serves as an indictment of the disjunct between America’s diversity and the ideals that form the frame of the society on one hand, and the neglect or insensitivity toward the wider foundation of the society on the other.
Where, then is the vision? The efforts presented by St. Augustine’s University were innovative indeed. Will St. Paul’s College be added to the list of Historically Black institutions that have closed since the beginning of the twentieth century? How many other HBCUs and other minority-focused institutions in America will be forced to close their doors due to fiscal, organizational or accreditation issues. What resources can be mustered to help turn this trend around? These and other questions beg to be answered.
Note: St. Paul’s photo courtesy of the university website.