The president’s recent announcement under privileged students, who cannot afford college, would be able to attend two years of community college for free would be a death knell to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU).

According to the Department of Education, there are 106 HBCUs currently in the United States serving hundreds of thousands of African Americans, as well as an increasing number of non-African Americans.

Many, if not all, HBCUs were started after the Emancipation Proclamation when Blacks had no other choice but to create their own schools, since they were either legally and/or financially barred from attending white colleges. Due to this segregation, HBCUs became a contributing factor in the creation of the Black middle class — educating millions of teachers, lawyers, physicians and others with white collar jobs that were previously unavailable before the creation of HBCUs.

With the Supreme Court declaring segregation was unconstitutional, HBCUs, then pivoted to becoming the premier choice for African-American students who did have a choice to go to white schools, but still preferred to attend an HBCU mainly for the social and financial accessibility.

This is where the president’s plan harm’s HBCUs. It creates an unfair playing field for HBCUs where they now have to compete with community colleges. On the surface, people will say community colleges are much different than HBCUs since community colleges offer two-year associate degrees and HBCUs offer four-year degrees. This is true and while established, selective HBCUs will be OK (universities such as Spelman, Howard and Hampton), less selective HBCUs that actually compete with community colleges with respect to selecting the same type of student will suffer.

This type of short sightedness by the administration, I believe will be overturned once the facts get out about the harm this will do to our schools. Community colleges will be fine, without our help, outrage and passion; our HBCUs will not be so lucky.

The profile is the same: first generation, low income individuals who show academic promise but are in need of intense academic and social mentoring. The reality is for many people of color who attend an HBCU, the first two years of their academic experience is spent on strengthening their writing and speaking skills and fine-tuning their interest with respect to their majors. Many HBCUs have documented this is the most expensive part of the student retention process and this work is exactly what community colleges do as well.

In addition, HBCUs have seen a significant decrease in their federal and state funding, which in turn has also seen a decrease in the allotment of student loans. This funding is critical for the basic operation of many HBCUs, which do not have endowments.

The reality is HBCUs are in trouble — big trouble — and tinkering with the financial model that has kept them afloat, although well intentioned, just may put many of them over the edge into bankruptcy, or worse into close their doors altogether. If this was to happen a piece of our national fabric would be torn apart and millions of African-American men and women would be denied an opportunity to attend an HBCU.

This type of short sightedness by the administration, I believe will be overturned once the facts get out about the harm this will do to our schools. Community colleges will be fine, without our help, outrage and passion; our HBCUs will not be so lucky.

Follow Robert Traynham on Twitter @roberttraynham.

Follow Robert Traynham on Twitter @roberttraynham.

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