Co-written by Dr. Robert T. Palmer (Interim Chair and Associate Professor, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Howard University) and Dr. Ramon B. Goings (assistant professor of Educational Leadership at Loyola University of Maryland)
Throughout their distinguished history HBCUs educated students from low and moderate income backgrounds and molded them into leaders. This occurs because HBCUs provide a respite for Black students that have to overcome academic and economic disparities including attending inadequate PreK-12 schools. Upon arriving at HBCUs students benefit from strong peer to peer and peer to faculty relationships that provide cover during troubling times. In addition, HBCUs are uniquely positioned to address social issues that impact Black students ability to persist. Frequently, researchers focus on undergraduate student’s experiences at HBCUs but they provide comprehensive graduate programs with internationally recognized faculty. Graduate student’s benefit from attending institutions, which are cost effective, responsive to students needs, and provide a return on investment (ROI).
Highlighting the first person accounts of students, particularly graduate students, is important considering some pundits suggest that HBCUs are no longer relevant. To counter the narrative we co-edited a recently released book titled, “Graduate Education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A Student Perspective.” We believe the narratives written by individuals that attended a HBCU for graduate school will help administrators, advocates, faculty, and students understand the layered experiences of former students. Each co-editor (Robert T. Palmer, Larry J. Walker, Ramon B. Goings, Charmaine Troy, Chaz T. Gipson and Felecia Commodore) is invested in the future of HBCUs. Thus, we wanted to present successful alumni with a platform to discuss their challenges and success stories.
Why HBCUs are Important
The book offers readers the opportunity to understand what makes HBCUs unique and necessary. Each contributor shares anecdotal evidence that supports research by Palmer and others, which suggests Black students benefit from nurturing environments where they feel valued. In the book, authors discuss in detail how relationships with administrators, faculty, and staff influenced their career trajectory and how they overcome pitfalls. We believe the book is important because narratives written by successful HBCU graduate students are rare. Far too often, society perpetuates stereotypes that members of the Black community don’t care about attending post-secondary institutions. This is not acceptable. HBCUs continue to train Black students to succeed despite the obstacles. Fortunately the authors welcomed the opportunity to develop a counter narrative that will inform policymakers, higher education experts, and students
Not only does the book delineate what makes HBCUs unique and relevant to the higher education landscape, it does this within the context of graduate school at HBCUs. This is extremely important because of the literature on HBCUs that emphasizes the experiences of undergraduate Black students and more recently non-Black students at HBCUs. However, while Black students enrolled in graduate programs at HBCUs are reported to experience a supportive and nurturing relationship with their professors and others, not much is known empirically or anecdotally about other experiences of Black students pursuing graduate degrees at HBCUs.
For example, one area that this book provides insight into is factors that encourage Black students to attend an HBCU for their graduate studies. While some contributors indicated that attending an HBCU for their post baccalaureate studies was a logical step given their undergraduate experience at an HBCU. Others indicated that they attended an HBCU for graduate school not only for the high caliber education that HBCUs provides, but also because they act as a refuge from the racism that they experienced as undergraduate students at a predominantly White institution (PWIs).
Developing a Counter Narrative
Furthermore, the contributors of the book also help to clarify the role that HBCUs play in financially supporting students who attend graduate school at HBCUs. While it is commonly touted that HBCUs are under funded compared to their PWIs counterparts, many may assume that the dearth of funding impinges upon HBCUs’ ability to provide any financial assistance to students seeking to pursue a graduate education at these institutions. According to authors of the book, like many graduate students, some took out loans to help finance their education because they needed to continue working full-time while attending graduate school. Others however, received partial or full financial support from their respective HBCU to help their efforts to attain an graduate degree. Emphasizing the fact that HBCUs do have resources to help augment funding for graduate students is particularly important because funding, particularly at the graduate level, is not just linked to retention and persistence, but it also plays a critical role in whether a student will even consider matriculating into an institution.
Lastly, “Graduate Education at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: A Student Perspective” is written for a variety of groups including researchers, practitioners, students, and parents. Moreover, while the authors’ narratives were centered on their HBCU experiences, the advice given in each chapter provides general strategies to navigate the graduate school environment. Considering the importance of graduate education, this book can serve as a guide for undergraduate students who are contemplating pursuing their graduate degree at an HBCU. We hope the book highlights the work HBCUs do in preparing graduate students to succeed in a variety of fields, while simultaneously showcasing the power of what happens when colleges and universities create an inclusive environment where students are nurtured.