The first historically Black university — Pennsylvania’s Cheyney University — opened in 1837 and since then, HBCUs have played a vital role in the African-American community.
HBCUs helped develop leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and Sen. Kamala Harris.
Now Cheyney and other HBCUs are in danger of closing.
From a high of 120 HBCUs to about 101 in 2019, many have faced an uncertain future. In the last 20 years, six have closed and several others remain open in name only after losing accreditation, The New York Times reported.
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Bennett College, one of the nation’s two historically Black colleges for women, has been on shaky ground for a while.
In December, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges voted to eliminate Bennett’s accreditation because of the school’s bleak financial report. “Without it, the small, North Carolina-based private school is ineligible for federal funding, a likely death knell,” NYT reported.
Founded in 1873, Bennett is fighting the decision in court. Alumni and celebrities have been fighting too to keep the school open.
Another HBCU in trouble is Cheyney University, the oldest HBCU. The school is at risk of losing its accreditation and also has financial troubles. The university is part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
The loss of even one HBCU can affect generations of Blacks. At one point, HBCUs were the only option for Black students seeking a college degree in America. Losing one HBCU is “bound to reverberate for generations,” the NYT reported.
“HBCUs need investments from our own community. Our millionaires and philanthropists and churches should take the time to invest in HBCUs,” one former HBCU student told the NYT. “They are struggling because there has always been a shoestring mentality.”
Five HBCUs have shut down since 1989. Several others including Knoxville College, Barber-Scotia College and Morris Brown College, with only 55 students enrolled, have been stripped of their accreditation and remain open in name only, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
Here are some of the HBCUs that have already closed: Avery College, Pittsburgh (1849-1873); Guadalupe College, Seguin, Texas (1884-1936); Western University, Quindaro, Kan. (1865-1943); Storer College, Harpers Ferry, W.Va.(1865-1955); Leland University, New Orleans/Baker, La. (1870-1960); Campbell College, Vicksburg and Jackson, Miss. (1890-1964); Kittrell College, Kittrell, N.C. (1886-1975); Daniel Payne College, Birmingham (1889-1979); Friendship College, Rock Hill, S.C. (1891-1981); Prentiss Institute, Jefferson Davis County, Miss. (1907-1989); Mississippi Industrial College, Holly Springs, Miss. (1905-1982); Bishop College, Dallas (1881-1988); Natchez Junior College, Natchez, Miss. (1884-1989); Morristown College, Morristown, Tenn. (1881-1989); Mary Holmes College, Jacksonville, Miss. (1892-2004); Lewis College of Business, Detroit (1928-2013); St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville, Va. (1888–2013).
Most of the closings are due to financial struggles or loss of accreditation.
A Georgia lawmaker wants to merge Savannah State, Albany State and Ft. Valley State Universities into one big HBCU called Georgia A&M University. It would operate separately from the University System of Georgia, CBS Channel 46 reported.
A proposed bill in Georgia hopes to save all three HBCUs. The bill is controversial as the number of HBCUs would decrease. Some see the bill as hope.
“I believe the merge of the HBCUs is a win for all three Universities. Being a graduate of Savannah State University, I have seen the growth and decline over the years and maybe this merge will help,” said graduate Aybriel Beckham.
The original proposal, Senate Bill 273, was withdrawn earlier this year. The merger falls under Senate Bill 270.
While this version of the controversial bill did not make it through the 2019 session, it is expected to be reintroduced in January 2020, CBS Channel 46 reported.