We are at a critical moment for North Carolina’s five HBCUs. Most are facing declining enrollment as competition increases for the best and brightest talent in an ever-evolving economy. And changes to federal Pell Grant and Parent Plus Loan eligibility have disproportionately affected black families.
The good news is North Carolina’s HBCU community has a long history of preparing young people for success under tough circumstances. North Carolina A&T is the nation’s leading producer of African-American engineers, while N.C. Central University features two state-of-the-art biotech research facilities and a law school with top-rated clinical programs. Local HBCUs are becoming the first choice for an increasing number of nonblack students, especially among veterans and active-duty military. Fayetteville State, Elizabeth City State and the private Johnson C. Smith University are ranked among the most diverse schools in America.
No one should doubt the commitment to excellence that incoming UNC system President Margaret Spellings brings to the highest-ranked public university system in the United States. She understands UNC’s black colleges are as integral to the system as its flagship in Chapel Hill. In her recent address to the UNC Board of Governors, in fact, Spellings noted that in a global economy UNC must commit to “help many more people – particularly people of color and those from first-generation and low-income backgrounds – to achieve at much higher levels.” Sadly, 90 percent of first-generation college students do not complete their studies, usually due to limited financial resources and other support. This challenge is not lost on Spellings, who worked her way through college.
Spellings has already engaged the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in her new capacity before her planned visits to each of our local member-schools over the next several weeks. TMCF will work to communicate the new president’s lifelong commitment to pursuing equity. We will also ensure that Spellings understands the negative consequences of supporting the Access to Affordable Education Act and the North Carolina Guaranteed Admission Program. I will join Spellings in visits with the chancellors at Elizabeth City State, North Carolina A&T, NCCU and Winston-Salem State to underscore the need for her commitment to reverse any efforts to implement these proposals.
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The success of North Carolina’s HBCU community is personal to me. I made my home in Charlotte for nearly 15 years. I am excited a leader is in place who values North Carolina’s HBCU community and is open to dialogue from the start.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr. is president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a leading advocate for the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the nation.