Friday, January 9, 2009

Black Scholar Debate: Private U. versus State U. versus HBCU

This post comes from my chapter brother Kofi Bofah who is the Founder/CEO of Onyx Investments in Chicago. Great read.


Let us evaluate the daunting paradox that confronts the Black intellectual in terms of collegiate alliance. The ultimate decision to grant support towards a public university, elite private institution, or a Historically Black College-University (H.B.C.U.) is of great importance at face value. As we delve deeper into the issue, we will expose the fact that the said proposal is a mere microcosm of the other-worldly challenges confronting the Black Scholar.

We shall assume that the applicant is ideally positioned to select the institution of his choice as a consequence of academic and financial merit. This mandate allows for intelligent benchmarking as we may effectively compare and contrast the top programs of the aforementioned private, public, and H.B.C.U. categories.

Our analysis is not an indictment against artistic colleges or trade schools. Rather, the work highlights the personal experiences of the author. I am a 2002 graduate of The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and carry numerous acquaintances from private universities and Historically Black Colleges. These are the circles with which I am most familiar.

Let us evaluate the merit: Private University versus State Public versus Historically Black College.

Private University

Examples: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, M.I.T., Stanford, Duke, Chicago, Northwestern, Brown

Pros: Name Recognition, Academic Rigor, Networking, Unlimited Resources

Cons: Irrelevant Sports, hyper-competitive atmosphere, limited social activity, expense

Challenges for the Black Intellectual: Minimal Black enrollment. Students and graduates largely subjugated to "Uncle Tom" venom by the Black Community.

The academic rigor of the elite United States Private University is unmatched. 22 out of the 25 top Universities according to the U.S. News and World Report are Private Universities. The names loom large as a salute to intellectual firepower from the Harvard - Yale - Princeton - PENN - Dartmouth - Cornell - Columbia - Brown University Ivy League to the Duke - Stanford - Cal Tech - M.I.T. - Johns Hopkins - Chicago - Northwestern - Vanderbilt University regional stalwarts.

These institutions are worlds unto themselves and are even responsible for outright intellectual movements. For example, Stanford brainpower dominates the Internet; the University of Chicago has introduced the world to a school of economic thought; and Hopkins, along with Duke University is synonymous with medical breakthroughs.

The academic capacity along with the sheer networking available to the attendants of these schools is unparalleled. Barack Obama went to Harvard, Google and Intel were nurtured in the hallowed corridors of Stanford University, and the late Milton Friedman upheld the term "Chicago" economist.

Although we intimated earlier that expense was not an issue for our prospect - the decree was telegraphed in response to the admit-reject scenario. The admit-reject is an applicant that is mockingly admitted to a University that he is unable to afford. We are assuming that our ideal candidate enjoys the backing of personal, family financial support and/or scholarships.

Still, expense is always an issue due to the opportunity cost factor. 2008-2009 undergraduate tuition and fees for these top-25 private institutions average $36,545. The outliers are Rice University at Houston, TX with a $29,960 outlay and Columbia University in New York City at $39,326 for 2008-2009 tuition and fees. Expect total costs to approach one quarter of a million dollars in exchange for a diploma from the elite Private University.

Financially, middle-class parents are exasperated and Private U. graduates are often strapped with outrageous levels of debt throughout their working years.

Is it really worth it?

The crushing financials along with the sky-high expectations of these credentialed Golden Children may easily propagate an eerie aura of malaise. This talented-tenth elite group must not only accept the torch of family and peer expectations - but is unwittingly burdened with carrying the flag of an entire race. The Black Intellectual is tormented by this paradox. He must fully embrace a Western Culture that has not always embraced his person.

The toxic dichotomy is exacerbated by the jealous suspicion that seeks to degrade his every accomplishment. The Black Scholar "acts white," "talks white," and is ridiculed as an out-of touch snob by legions of his own crab-like people and society at-large.

Carlton Banks wanted to go to Princeton.

Private School University Recommendation: Attend for the intellectual stimulation. Money must really be a non-issue.

Public University

Examples: Cal-Berkeley, UVA, UCLA, Michigan, Wisconsin, UNC-Chapel Hill, Georgia Tech

Pros: Relative affordability, collegiate atmosphere, selective programs comparable to Privates, general diversity.

Cons: Crushing amounts of students, resources privy to State budgeting, distractions.

Challenges for the Black Intellectual: The Public U. graduate must fiercely battle for positioning amongst the bourgeoisie Jack and Jill crowd while still confronting the "White School" stigma.

The flagship Public University is representative of its State and entire region. Whereas elite private institutions are close-knit beacons of intellectualism - State U. is a coordinated mass movement of scholarship, sporting events, and social activity.

For example, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill is embraced throughout the Tar Heel State while our Duke University neighbors our mocked as haughty Northern carpetbaggers -designated by the University of New Jersey at Durham quasi nameplate.

The collegiate atmosphere is under girded by the infusion of this regional sentiment. Although the University of Texas lists 2007 enrollment at an already staggering 50,170 - UT is actually backed by 25 million Lone Star residents in the name of State Pride and tax dollars.

Overall, State U. academics are not quite as rigorous as the aforementioned Private Universities. The University of California at Berkeley is the top-ranked public school - but is twenty-first nationally according to U.S. News. Berkeley, the University of Virginia, and the University of California - Los Angeles are the public universities that round out the bottom of the top-twenty five pecking order.

The top-tier public school is a bargain-bin value for state residents. 2008-2009 in-state tuition and fees for Berkeley, UCLA, and UVA average out at a very manageable $8,422 figure. Thirtieth ranked UNC is a special value for native Tar Heels with a minimal $5,396 tuition bill and Florida-Gainesville is a mere pittance for Sunshine State residents at $3,790. The expense of a full, four-year education is often equivalent to one year's tuition at a top private university.

Out-of-State tuition and fees expenses are roughly $10,000 less than the private schools, with an average $28,414 calculation for these three public schools that have been recognized as top 25 institutions. Still, the $29,600 charge for the University of Virginia is comparable to the $29,960 tab for the higher-ranked Rice University; and twenty-sixth ranked Michigan carries a steep $32,401 out-of-state tuition tab that is comparable to any University in terms of expense.

Public school University students work hard and play hard. The State U. graduate must remain vigilant to effectively combat the debauchery that comes part in parcel with 30,000-50,000 young adults left to fend for themselves for the first time.

The State University easily degenerates into Animal Farm Party U.

This may not exactly be a bad thing.

Public School University Recommendation: The enrollee is seeking the complete collegiate experience and exudes the requisite stability to stand tall against the masses. The flagship in-state school should always be considered.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Examples: Howard University, S.C. State, NC A&T, NC Central, Morehouse, Spelman, Florida A&M.

Pros: Community geared to support African Americans. Tightly knit network.

Cons: Lack of resources, lesser academic rigor, unrealistic model of society.

Challenges for the Black Intellectual: Males dismissed as militant, angry Black Men; Females caricatured as militant, angry Soul Sistas.

The top-ranked H.B.C.U.s are Spelman College, Howard, and Morehouse. Unfortunately, Howard University is the only member of this group that may lay claim to a ranking according to the U.S. News and Word Report guide. Howard is ranked as the 102nd best university in the nation - tied with such notables as Florida State, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and U Mass - but slightly ahead of the University of Tennessee.

No other H.B.C.U. is ranked within the top 130 programs. South Carolina State University at Orangeburg is the next in line with a "Tier 3" listing.

The Historically Black College came into existence in response to the second Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1890 (the original Morrill Land-Grant Act was proposed to advance the educational standards of Americans.) The mandate ordered that states using federal land grant funds to construct universities must open these schools to all races - or allocate money for segregated Black colleges that were apparently "alternatives" to white schools. 16 exclusively Black institutions were to receive 1890 land-grant funds.

History has exposed the legislated "separate but equal" logic to be a complete farce. Unfortunately, inadequate funding, resources, and overall access sabotage the H.B.C.U. model.

Howard University lists an endowment fund that is a shade over $500 million. This figure is a grotesque tragedy in comparison to Harvard's $34 billion war chest. The Historically Black College struggles to compete with these wealthy private institutions and the Public Universities that absorb the bulk of State House education funds. Politically, the allocation of tax dollars to the flagship schools representing larger cross sections of society as opposed to one specific group is more plausible.

The H.B.C.U. is an alternative Universe where the environment is built to comfort the African-American at every cost. This is not the America that we all know.

In spite of these shortcomings, the Historically Black College remains a staple of the Black Community. These campuses automatically facilitate a camaraderie and cultural pride that is impossible to achieve at the typical private institution that features a scant African American student body, or the far-flung public university where the individual is easily lost in the shuffle.

The Historically Black College is a supportive environment built for Black scholars to fervently pursue academics without the looming fear of outside persecution.

Historically Black College Recommendation: The applicant's selection is an indication of his full embrace of Black Culture, rather than the naive indictment of the racial and socioeconomic machinations of society at-large.


A sheep is still a sheep, regardless of whatever degree that he holds.

The diploma is merely a piece of paper indicating the one has completed a particular level of study. This shred of paper is meaningless without the driving personality backing the document. Essentially, the true elite thrive in all environments while the masses revert towards the mean, irrespective of educational pedigree or social positioning.

The selection in regards to the merit of a particular private school, public university, of a Historically Black College will only highlight the strengths and further exacerbate the weaknesses of the individual.

The Black Scholar already recognizes the fun-house essence of his existence. The Black Intellectual must fully embrace a world that is privy to degrade his character with both subtle directives and outright hostilities.


Jermel said...

Great essay. I think it sums up the choice a young black intellectual out of high school faces. My personal choice was to attend an HBCU. I like to think I could have been accepted into at least one of the private universities listed, even though I didn't apply one. I did apply to and get accepted into an HBCU and a State U. I made my choice based on my background. I grew up in rural NC where I spent my education in academically gifted classes as the lone African American male. It was very valuable for me to attend a school where I could be surrounded by people that look like me and were also interested in academic pursuits. I understand my choice isn't the right choice for everyone, but I have no regrets. Aggie Pride!!!

Kofi Bofah said...

Thanks for the assist, Brandon.

I mean, you already know where my head is it.

I am biased towards the State Public University.

But I think the choice all comes down to one's personality...

Anonymous said...

I totally Agree with u...i went to JSU in MS for a year.
It was too easy so I transferre

Anonymous said...

I chose to go to a White school- University of Wisconsin. It is proving to be a double-edged sword. While I appreciate the option to take Russian and Hebrew studies, classes that most HBCUs would never offer, I find that I am a posterchild for Black people while I am in class. Many people here have never been outside of Wisconsin and rarely have encounters with Blacks. It was a real eye-opener for a well-travelled city girl like me!