My Case Against Free Community College

By Marvin Adams

Marvin Adams is a parishioner of St. Anthony’s Parish in Washington D.C. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Franciscan Action Network.

Marvin Adams

I, like most, was caught off-guard by President Obama’s recent announcement of his proposal to make tuition at Community Colleges free. Similar to his decision to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, it was met with both support and disdain. While I view the president’s intent as admirable and probably heartfelt, I respectfully would have suggested a different route. Succinctly, I would have suggested that tuition at both two and four year institutions are free!

The president’s proposal will obviously benefit many, especially those who find themselves at the lower end of the economic spectrum. However, probably without realizing it, his proposal portends to have a devastating effect on that same group, especially those of whom aspire to attend a Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs).

An HBCU, as defined in Title III of the Higher Education Act of 1965, is a school of higher learning whose principle mission was and is the education of African-Americans and was accredited and established before 1964. There are presently 106 HBCUs in existence today. The first three HBCUs were all in the North: Cheney University, PA (1837); Lincoln University, PA (1854); and Wilberforce, OH (1856). Shaw University, NC (1865) was the first established in the South, and it was followed in succession by Fisk, TN in 1866 and both Howard, Washington, D.C. and Johnson C. Smith, NC, Universities in 1867.

HBCUs have always served as a conduit for an inordinate amount of African-Americans to obtain a higher education. Whether by happenstance or design, they have and continue to graduate some of America’s best and brightest young men and women of color. Although they represent only 3% of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, they graduate an astronomical 20% of the African-American who earn undergraduate degrees. These graduates range in every field of study. A list of graduates, both recent and past, reads like a Who’s Who. Here are just a few: Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; Dr. Mordecai Johnson; Booker T. Washington; Dr. William E.B. DuBois; Dr. Daniel Hale Williams; Dr. Charles Drew; Toni Morrison; Walter Payton; Jerry Rice; Oprah Winfrey; Ronnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. aka, “Common,” Spike Lee and Herman Cain. Yes, that Herman Cain!

Prior to the advent of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, respectfully, HBCUs gave us some of the most talented athletes our country has ever seen. The football teams of Morgan State, Grambling, Florida A & M, Southern and South Carolina State, with their legendary coaches Earl Banks, Eddie Robinson, Jake Gaither, Ace Mumford and Willie Jeffries, respectively, rivaled and oftentimes surpassed the talent level at most of the major universities during that time.

An example of which is a 1974 football game between Grambling and Jackson State. On the day that game was played, it featured the aforementioned Walter Payton, his brother Eddie, Jackie Slater, Robert Brazile, Sammie White, Carlos Pennywell and his brother Robert, Doug Williams, Gary Johnson, Bob Barber, Jesse O’Neal, Rickey Young, John Tate, Charles Jones, Joe Lowery, James Hunter, Richard St. Clair, Ron Singleton, Dwight Scales and Bobby Simon. All of whom were drafted and played in the National Football League! Payton (4th), Brazile (6th) and Johnson (8th) were all selected in the first round by the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers and the San Diego Chargers, respectfully. There has never been a collegiate game since which has equaled the amount of professional talent on display during that game.

With the advent of integration, the HBCUs will never see that level of talent ever again. It’s ironic that less than 50 years ago, universities which barred African-American students from enrolling (see Alabama, Ole Miss, et al) have been the recipient of a talent pool which has allowed them to consistently win NCAA Championships and to be competitive for the same annually.

Similarly, if given a choice between attending the first two years at a community college for free, as opposed to paying upwardly beyond $15,000 per year to attend a private HBCU, that as often been stated, will be for some, a no-brainer. That said, I would hope that the president and his Administration would reconsider and take into consideration the importance of the HBCUs, both past, present and hopefully into the future.

It has been well published that a few of the remaining HBCUs are in trouble financially. Unless the president and his Administration reconsider this proposal, I fear that a few of them will join St. Paul’s College of Lawrenceville, Virginia, who closed their doors on June 30, 2013. And that I might add, should not be an option.

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Published in: on January 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

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