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HBCU: The Black college experience

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The Higher Education Act of 1965, defines a Historically Black College and University or HBCU as: “…any historically Black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of Black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally-recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the secretary (of Education) to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”

With the vast amount of options of higher education for young adults, students are able to choose between different environments for learning based upon things such as the campus culture, quality of education and financial aid awarded. Once the moment arrives, students must choose between either attending an HBCU or traditional education, which may be a predominately white institution (PWI).

Rayna Robinson, recent graduate from Ball State University (BSU) initially began her path to higher education at Alabama A&M, an HBCU, but soon after her first semester, she transferred to BSU. She said she initially decided on an HBCU because of the history and tradition the university carried.

“I decided to transfer to Ball State because I felt like I was not being challenged at Alabama A&M and Ball State was closer to home,” said Robinson who is originally from Indianapolis. “I felt as if I was doing 7th grade work. Although I liked having a 4.0 (grade point average), the education I was receiving didn’t add up to the amount of money being spent.”

She said although the two universities are completely different, she surprisingly felt more welcome at BSU despite only having one professor of color. There, she was encouraged to meet others outside of her African-American heritage.

“Ball State University definitely gave me the best college experience because I was able to meet new people, join amazing organizations, and receive an education from a business school that is highly ranked amongst other schools,” said Robinson who majored in human resource management.

Blake Riley, also originally from Indianapolis, decided to take another route to pursue his education. For the past four years he has walked the grounds of Central State University located in Wilberforce, Ohio. Attending the university on an athletic scholarship, Riley was able to become involved in campus organizations like the Student Athletic Association and Greek life as a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. He said he is enjoying his time at Central State where he has received instruction by 24 professors of color. He describes the environment as “a small campus where everyone knows each other.”

Within the Midwest, only five HBCUs are available to students who choose that option. Since none of those five are located in Indiana, students must dig deep into their wallets to afford the out-of-state expenses and transportation costs to attend those close by such as Kentucky State University, Lincoln University, Central State University, Wilberforce University and Langston University. Compared to traditional universities in Indiana, the cost per year or semester differs. The University of Indianapolis (UIndy), a private institution is priced at about $34,000 a year; IUPUI at about $12,500 a year; Kentucky State University at about $27,000 a year and Central State University at about $13,500 per semester.

Regina Turner, teacher and Black Student Union advisor at IUPUI said when she first arrived as a faculty member in 1998, she noticed many needs in the African-American culture on campus, including the need for a multicultural center, which had not been built yet.

“Most of the needs have to do with the cultural aspect of African-American life,” said Turner. “At a PWI, experiences in college life are compressed in such a way that one has to attend to the academic mission and social mission at the same time. What goes on outside of class is very important to students at this age. My job has to do with meeting the social and cultural needs for those students.”

IUPUI offers students individualized attention through organizations such as the Black Student Union, the Multicultural Success Center and through a program called Young, Gifted and Black that Turner spearheads. The program meets during a monthly luncheon and addresses the needs of the African-American community such as budgeting and how romantic relationships impact academic achievement.

Turner has had the experience of traditional education as well as an HBCU. She briefly attended Morgan State University as an undergraduate and then transferred to the University of Maryland. After earning her Master’s degree at Atlanta University, she taught at Lincoln University.

“The program ‘A Different World’ was very appropriately named because it is indeed a different world between PWI’s and HBCUs. I think one of the main differences is at an HBCU, everything validates and encourages the importance of African-American life in this country. All of the major offices are held by African-Americans, the culture is focused on African-Americans, the choir sings songs related to African-Americans and at a PWI, all of those things are absent.”

According to UIndy 2013-2014 enrollment rates, 11 percent of students were categorized as Black out of the total one-fourth of students that are described as non-white. Out of the 900-plus freshmen attending the university this fall, nine percent are African-American.

DyNisha Miller, a recent graduate of UIndy, said her experience was one of the best.

“One of the main reasons I chose UIndy was because of the small class sizes and I’ve always gone to a private school,” said Miller who is from Fort Wayne.

Miller said she had a few other schools on her radar, including some HBCUs, but in the end, they didn’t fit her criteria.

“I was only interested in Indiana schools and initially I was interested in an HBCU but I didn’t want to go too far away from home. I wasn’t interested in Central State and Fisk was too far away from home,” she said.

She adds that through her involvement in Black Student Association as president and the Student Government Association at UIndy, she was offered a position right out of college as the press secretary for the Indiana Department of Agriculture.

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