Black People Really Have to Start Paying Attention to Smaller HBCUs

The University of the Virgin Islands is one of the supporting institutions of a regional initiative to improve hurricane forecasting technology.

Students and faculty working in UVI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Studies will work with the Ocean and Coastal Observing – Virgin Islands (OCOVI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to use underwater drone technology in studying oceanic and animal behavior in the waters surrounding the Virgin Islands, to better predict storm and hurricane severity.

It is the kind of work that means a lot to the region, and UVI’s work is helping to save lives and safeguard economy by improving research opportunities for black students and faculty as well as underscoring the value of a historically black education served by public funding.

UVI is one of those schools that frequently flies under the radar because of its geography and size, but if we’re internationally focused on how and what makes HBCUs important, they should be among the first campuses we look to in order to make the case for survival of the sector at large.

Howard University announced yesterday its latest accolade as the number one producer of medical school applicants in the nation, but the undercurrent to that story is that HU has a producer of medical school graduates. The Mecca’s incoming Class of 2022 to its medical school will boast 37 graduates from 11 HBCUs.

A majority of that cohort is from the schools which carry the HBCU banner in pop culture — Howard, Hampton, Tuskegee, Morehouse, Spelman, Texas Southern, and Prairie View A&M, but more than 20% of the group was admitted from smaller yet mighty-in-their-own-right HBCUs; Xavier, Meharry, the University of the District of Columbia, and Miles.

That number suggests that Howard, one of the nations’ top medical schools historically black or otherwise, can recruit from smaller sister institutions to find qualified talent to train and subsequently dispatch into an important industry requiring strenuous professional licensing and skill. If those six students could make it into HU, they likely could have attended medical school anywhere in the country.

This shows that schools we don’t commonly think of when we think ‘HBCU’ are producing high-level talent, whether they entered the doors as high achieving students or the HBCU experience transformed their lives and minds into something ready for advanced training.

What if we took it a step further and into those industries and workplaces not commonly associated with HBCU excellence? Two years ago, Langston University researchers discovered significant racial and gender-based disparities in job placements for military veterans. It is significant research when paired with the government’s efforts to help active duty and retired veterans socially acclimate after service and into careers.

Fort Valley State University is a nationally-renowned institution for agricultural science, specifically in crop preservation and cooperative extension. This, coupled with virtually all of the land grant HBCUs doing this work and doing it well stands out; but few of them are extending the work to research in nanotechnology implementation, or facing poverty levels comparable to those in FVSU’s geographic footprint.

Many of our smaller institutions are regional training hubs for key industries like medical science, education, criminal justice and social work. States like Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama may have towering flagship HBCUs in Jackson State, Tennessee State and Alabama State, but in the counties reeling from population loss and legislative neglect, it is the smaller HBCUs sending in graduates to help keep municipalities afloat.

Sometimes, it is HBCUs themselves keeping cities and counties in business.

There are reasons why Black America is seemingly attached to the notion of HBCUs but distant from the sector’s smaller institutions. If they don’t field big football teams, enroll more than 5,000 students and don’t have famous alumni, we tend not to talk about them. And even those schools which feature all of these things struggle to get black folks to support them.

For every Alcorn State that means so much to Mississippi, there is a Rust College which means just as much to Holly Springs. For every North Carolina A&T, a Livingstone College is making a difference to hundreds of students and thousands of neighbors in Salisbury, NC. If either were to close tomorrow, it would create a national day of mourning for “another HBCU lost.”

So if we would be willing to mourn their deaths on par with larger and more noticeable HBCUs, are we willing to give them our attention so they can avoid such demise by flourishing in their own excellence?