A Collaborating Black College is a Successful Black College

Multi-Ethnic Group of People Collaborating on Concepts.Many HBCUs are doing amazing work as individual institutions. These particular campuses have great initiatives, programming, and services that are exemplary of institutional missions in action. This being the case, there are opportunities for HBCUs to join forces with each other and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to increase the reach and impact of their programs and services for students and surrounding communities. Collaboration can be an important piece to the sustainability of HBCUs.

Importance and Benefits of Collaboration

Collaboration is important for institutions for a variety of reasons. The most prominent being funding. In an environment of limited resources, funders within both the private and public sectors are looking for opportunities to stretch their money as far as it can go. HBCUs and other MSIs service a large portion of low income, first generation, and students of color within higher education. Though it would be ideal for funding to be provided to individual institutions, this is not necessarily the reality. Through collaboration, HBCUs are not only able to take advantage of funding opportunities, but are also able to bolster programs and extend the reach of initiatives through the added support of a partner institution. In working with other HBCUs and MSIs, HBCUs also have the opportunity to partner with institutions that have similar missions and serve similar bodies of students. HBCUs benefit from collaboration through the building of networks, access to needed resources their individual campus may not possess, and the bolstering of already successful programs and practices. Other MSIs will find similar benefits in collaborating with HBCUs in addition to learning more about these institutions and how their approach and execution proves successful for students. There is also the social benefit of bringing together institutions, faculty, and student bodies that are comprised of and invest in underrepresented students in higher education. These partnerships have the ability to serve as foundation to alliances to lobby and advocate to policymakers, funders, and legislators on the behalf of MSIs.

Who Should Collaborate?

Though collaboration is encouraged, collaboration should be entered into thoughtfully and purposefully. HBCUs should considering collaborating with institutions that first and foremost are focused on and invested in the same goals and issues that their respective initiatives or programs focus on. There should be an alignment of goals and missions. Most importantly, HBCUs should only partner with institutions that respect the students that HBCUs serve. No amount of resources should compromise the value and respect due the students that are on the campuses of HBCUs.

HBCUs should also consider partnering with institutions with proven success. The measurement of success is not limited by the more common and broad definitions of graduation rates and endowments. However, successful programs and initiatives, as well as the ability to successfully secure funding and complete projects, could point to a well suited partner. Though other HBCUs are prime collaboration partners, HBCUs should be open to exploring opportunities within the larger MSI community. HBCUs in areas with high Latino populations may want to consider partnering with HSIs. In particular, through collaboration some HBCUs may find opportunities for the surrounding HSIs community colleges to become feeders into their programs. HBCUs looking to expand their public health outreach programs may find partnering with Tribal Colleges with community public health programs beneficial for both institutions and their students. Though collaboration can be a means to acquire funding and access resources, HBCUs should not sacrifice or compromise their missions to do so. Collaboration is an opportunity to share and embolden institutional missions, and any institution that does not see it as such is not a suitable match.

Successful Collaborations

In recent years, with a push from several national foundations, more HBCUs are collaborating with each other and with other MSI types. For example, Prairie View A&M University came together with the University of Texas, El Paso (an Hispanic Serving Institution) on a Lumina Foundation-sponsored project titled ‘Building Student Success Knowledge Infrastructures Collaboratively.” Through the leadership of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, fifteen HBCUs are working together to support innovation and entrepreneurship. On a larger scale, the federal government – through the Department of Energy, USAID, the Department of Justice, Department of Education, and the Department of Interior – foster collaboration among MSIs be offering grant opportunities to groups of MSIs working together on common issues. More and more, both public and private funders are encouraging the various Minority Serving Institutions, including HBCUs, to work with multiple partners in their pursuit of student success. The most recent example is the Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) grant opportunity, which encouraged both MSI partners and non-MSI partners to come together to pursue innovative strategies that increase degree attainment, decrease time to degree and student loan defaults, and promote greater preparation for the work force among underrepresented students.

Through collaboration, HBCUs are able to pool resources and extend their reach. Collaboration opens channels of communication, knowledge sharing, and community building between other HBCUs and other MSI types. When one entity joins with another the fear of loss often overshadows the possibilities. However, HBCUs that choose to collaborate with other HBCUs and MSIs will find they have much to gain and their already great contributions will be amplified.

About the Authors

Marybeth Gasman, Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She also serves as the Director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Marybeth is an expert on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Black leadership, fundraising and philanthropy in communities of color and Minority Serving Institutions. She is the author of 18 books in these subject areas and many articles.


Felecia Commodore, Penn Center for Minority Serving InstitutionsFelecia Commodore is a fourth year PhD student in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. She has a background working as an admissions counselor and academic advisor at Trinity University, Washington, D.C. and University of Maryland, College Park respectively. Felecia obtained an M.A. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Maryland, College Park, MD and a B.S. in Marketing with a minor in Sociology from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Felecia was recently a 2013 intern for the Southern Education Foundation. Felecia’s research focus area is HBCU leadership, governance, and administrative practices.

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