Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

AJC series on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCUs are schools created to serve African-American students, originally during the time when higher education, especially in the South, was segregated and restricted to students of color.

In DC, Howard University is an HBCU and currently has financial issues ("Howard University residence halls without heat, water as classes set to begin," WJLA-TV; "Are finances at Howard University better or worse under the current president," Washington Post), as do many HBCUs, because as higher education became integrated students had more choices, and many HBCUs lost enrollment--according to the AJC, 50 years ago 90% of black students went to HBCUs, now it's 10%.

Baltimore has two HBCUs, Coppin State and Morgan State.  There is also an HBCU in Prince George's County, Maryland, Bowie State University.  Chicago State University has been pushed to the brink of insolvency because of the impasse in Illinois politics over the state budget, which has limited appropriations to many institutions including colleges and universities ("The Death Of A University? The Sad Story Of Chicago State," Forbes Magazine).

Atlanta is home to many HBCUs, hence the interest of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper in those schools, especially since many of the schools organized as part of a consortium, the Atlanta University Center, have financial issues.

-- HBCUs: A Threatened Heritage | A RE:Race project studying of the health of the country's historically black colleges and universities
-- "Perilous times for black colleges"

A story on North Carolina A&T caught my attention ("A&T: An HBCU powerhouse rises in Greensboro, because it is in Greensboro, and a couple years ago I wrote a piece referencing that city's economic development planning around the multitude of higher education institutions present there:

"Better leveraging higher education institutions in cities and counties: Greensboro; Spokane; Mesa; Phoenix; Montgomery County, Maryland; Washington, DC."

Greensboro models its efforts after Spokane, Washington as an example of how communities can leverage local higher education institutions as a broader economic development initiative as well as a way to spur Downtown revitalization.

From the AJC article:
... over the last decade, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University – known for its engineering programs and with a legacy that includes “The Greensboro Four,” Jesse Jackson and Ronald McNair – has moved quietly and resolutely toward its goal of becoming the best black college in the country.

With 11,877 students enrolled this fall – including a record 2,309 freshmen — A&T is the largest black college in the country, having surpassed Howard University, Florida A&M, Jackson State and Texas Southern. Those new freshmen came on campus with an average GPA of 3.51.

“We are fortunate to have been trending in the upward direction for the last few years,” said Erin Hill Hart, A&T’s associate vice provost for enrollment. “There is no question of where we trying to go and when we are going to get there.”
The NCA&T piece is contrasted with an article ("Cheyney University: The oldest HBCU faces an uphill struggle") on Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, the nation's oldest HBCU, which has been in financial trouble for the past couple decades. The AJC piece makes an important point, that state-funded HBCUs do better in those states that continue to pour resources into the schools.

I have another piece about Morgan State University in Baltimore on how they should have moved their architecture and planning school to the Station North district as a way to be more relevant to the goings on in the city ("Morgan State University should move their architecture and planning school to Downtown/Station North Arts District").

I sent it to their president, after he had an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun last month ("Despite obstacles, Morgan State University soars") but he never responded.

I have another piece in the context of cultural planning, making the point that such plans should include elements on education/higher education, especially when there are one or more undergraduate and graduate arts-related academic programs present within the community.

This came about because of the dissolution of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its related School of Art and Design. The school was absorbed by GWU but it would have been better had the Gallery become DC's local fine arts museum and the school could have been combined with UDC.

-- "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?"

I brought it up again last year with the closing of an arts school in Santa Fe, New Mexico. See "Revisiting stories: community culture master plans should include an element on higher education institutions."

But now I'd say that the need to do master planning related to higher education institutions at a scale beyond that of an individual school is important regardless of whether or not it is an arts school. Therefore the AJC series is important and relevant to more places than merely Atlanta.

From a planning perspective, this is especially important because smaller schools are at significant financial risk ("Small, Private Colleges in Danger of Closing," Voice of America).   The AJC article on Cheyney lists these warning signs:
  • instability in the administration and frequent changes of leadership including the President
  • increased borrowing at high levels
  • significant enrollment declines and declining standards in response to stoke enrollment
  • accreditation problems
  • which can limit the ability of students to get federal loans and financial aid.
Separately, there was a great story in the New York Times Magazine a couple years ago about Morehouse College and its program supporting premedical students ("A Prescription for More Black Doctors").

And while not a traditional HBCU, the University of Maryland Baltimore County is a national success working with the same kind of student population as HBCUs ("Freeman Hrabowski's UMBC legacy grows as he celebrates 20 years as president," Baltimore Sun).

Note also that such planning issues are not just a matter for HBCUs or small colleges. The University of Wisconsin--a flagship public university, is considering eliminating its MBA program, as enrollment drops and more students seek out more highly rated programs ("Writing on the Wall for Future of MBA Programs?," Inside Higher Education).

All the more reason for local planning authorities to take a greater interest in higher education matters. Interestingly, in DC, most of the universities have caps on their ability to grow and requirements to house students fully on campus, in response to resident concerns about rowdiness and the potential to create "student ghettoes."

But is that counterproductive in terms of the ability of the colleges to grow and remain competitive and financially successful as well as anchors of the local economy?

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