The article concerning black colleges in the U.S. on the front page of your Dec. 9 issue has some implications that seem simplistic if not just wrong. The author, Sarah Carr, is correct in saying that Historically Black Colleges and Universities take under-prepared students and provide a level of support and personal attention that is hard to find elsewhere. She is also correct in noting the low graduation rates and in suggesting that these rates will be increasingly the basis for public funding. However, if the graduation rate were high one suspects that the institutions would be under fire for being diploma mills.
Enrolling under-prepared students and maintaining high standards is likely to result in graduation rates that are lower than institutions that enroll well-prepared students. The example, Southern University in New Orleans, cited in the article at 17 percent, is particularly low. The national average of 42 percent (www.jbhe.com/features/50_blackstudent_gradrates.html) is still low.
Two questions have been begged, however. What are these graduates worth in terms of contributions to society and how much are their lives improved by getting an education. Answering either of these in terms of dollars understates the value but is at least convenient. The median annual earnings of a college graduate are $54,756 compared to $33,176 for a high school graduate. The article also seems to suggest that going to college but not graduating indicates failure, but the comparable income figure for a person with some college but no degree is $37,388 (www.ohe.state.mn.us/dPg.cfm?pageID=948). So it seems clear that HBCUs by taking students who are unlikely to get degrees elsewhere and helping many of them to graduation means more middle-class taxpaying citizens. In another measure of value, at all ages, the more educated a person is the more likely he/she is to vote (www.cpe.ky.gov/NR/rdonlyres/D3B3E236-3C3C-42B3.../voting_edpays.pdf). Simply put, education pays off for the individual and for society.
What then is the value of each life improved by an HBCU to the individual and to the community? Per student, the cost is higher when dealing with the under-prepared, per life it seems cheap, however. Perhaps with more support rather than less (the article is certainly right about the decline in funding, not just for HBCUs but for education generally) more lives could be enhanced and society even better served.
The focus of faculty and staff at HBCUs is finding ways for the young people enrolled to succeed. It takes more commitment and, yes, more money than is required in other settings, but education is cost effective in the long-run not in the short.
Fred R. van Hartesveldt is a resident of Fort Valley.