“If it was not for historically black colleges and universities, we would not be in these professions, period,” said Dr. Ruth Woods of Pike Township.
According to the White House, historically Black colleges and universities have produced 40% of all Black engineers and 50% of all Black lawyers in America; 70% of Black doctors attended an HBCUs; 80% of Black judges are HBCU alumni.
There are 107 historically black colleges and universities throughout the country, from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University to Xavier University of Louisiana, who serve over 228,000 students combined.
Woods has worked diligently with students seeking to pursue higher education since 2006. She recalls a time when Black recruiters were not allowed to step foot in high schools. Students interested in obtaining a higher education at an HBCU had to meet at annual HBCU college fairs.
Before Woods worked at Pike High School, she worked at Allison General Motors. “When I would go to Purdue to hire, I would see so many Black students in the freshman class, but then the class that was about to graduate, you would see so few,” she said.
When she created the Pre-Collegiate Initiative, she and her team found two main reasons why qualified students do not make it to college: The first is lack of information and the second is lack of support. Although there are other factors that play a part in students’ matriculation, those two are considered the most critical. That is where Woods and her team stepped in.
Jaren Diggins – Pike High School alumnus – attended Texas Southern University on the Houston Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholarship (LSAMP), which was introduced to him through Woods’ Pre-Collegiate Initiative.
“The Pre-Collegiate Initiative shaped my view of attending an HBCU by providing me with a perspective of HBCU life. It also emphasized the importance of African American men to become educated to diversify the future workforce as well as showing the younger generation of African Americans successful figures that look like them.”
HBCU and PWI alumnus Michael Jefferson received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Jackson State University and his Master of Science in Audio and Video Production from Indiana University. His experiences at both universities and working as a lecturer at Ball State University have shown him that there is a difference between these types of institutions that highlights the value of attending an HBCU.
“If you were to place a million dollars in front of me, and a lot of people look at me crazy when I say this, to go to any predominantly white institutions for free or I had the opportunity to attend a Historically Black Institution, but I had to pay my way, I would pay to go to an HBCU,” said Jefferson. “The reason why I would pay is because of the care that faculty actually has for you.”
Jefferson recognizes that there are issues within the HBCU community and challenges alumni from the 107 institutions to come back and be the change they wanted to see while attending their beloved institutions.
“If we continue to accept what’s there, we will continue to receive what we have always gotten, and that’s something we cannot do. If you don’t become a part of the national alumni association for your university and you don’t go back and challenge how things are done, I have a mantra I live by, either you put up or shut up,” said Jefferson. “Not only did I join [Jackson State University Alumni Association], but I became active. I am currently the Indianapolis Chapter President, and I have also worked with the national alumni association on many occasions, and I still do all because I see things that need to change, and I intend to work as hard and as vigorously as possible to see those changes happen.”
Jefferson values the historical significance of HBCUs and wanted to keep the legacy alive within his family.
“Legacy plays a big role in our family. My son, who was the first to leave the house, he didn’t go to Jackson State, he went to Florida A&M. We told him, ‘Okay fine, you can look around and go anywhere you want to, but it better be an HBCU,’” said Jefferson, who also has a set of twins that recently graduated from Jackson State University.
“Do I have anything negative to say about going to a larger institution? No, I do not. Why? Because I teach at one, and you can gain an education anywhere. However, there is a difference in what you get at an HBCU and what you get at a PWI. It’s the intangibles that are different. Education is education. We have white students that are now interested in attending our HBCUs because they get the same education that they could get from these majority schools, but they also get the care, people that are concerned about their welfare and their education.”
Contact staff writer Braxton Babb at (317) 762-7854. Follow her on Twitter @BLIEVESHEWRITES.