Black Colleges at the Crossroads Despite growing enrollments, the nation's traditionally black schools face financial pressures and life-threatening legal challenges.
By Vanessa O'Connell

(MONEY Magazine) – Crystal Warwell's strong record at Robinson High School in Tampa helped her win unsolicited offers of scholarships from the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. But Warwell, who grew up attending predominantly . white schools, decided instead to enroll at Florida A&M, a historically black public college in Tallahassee. Says Warwell, now 20 and in her senior year: "When it came down to making a decision, I realized that Florida A&M offered a good education and -- what I felt I had been missing my entire life -- contact with people of my culture whose goals are similar to mine." More and more African-American students are making the same choice these days, causing enrollments at the nation's 87 predominantly black four-year colleges and universities -- 41 of them public -- to soar 25% from 1987 to 1992, far ahead of the average 14% increase for all four-year schools. Today, 206,000 of the 1.2 million African-American college students attend black four-year schools. Yet many black colleges are at a crossroads, trying to make do with limited resources and facing legal challenges that threaten their very existence. If you are interested in attending one of these schools, here are the issues to consider: The cultural question. Like Warwell, many black students prefer an environment where African Americans are in the majority -- about 78% to 96% of the student body, compared with anywhere from 2% to 12% of the campus population at most predominantly white schools. "In general, black students do not feel supported, encouraged or valued on white campuses," contends Walter Allen, a UCLA sociology professor and project director of the National Study of Black College Students, a survey of 4,300 undergraduates. However, some African-American educators believe students who attend predominantly white colleges may be better prepared to face life after graduation. "You have to ask yourself why you are going to college -- to duck racism or to be trained in the ways of the real world,'' says A. Wade Smith, an associate professor of sociology at Arizona State University. The financial crunch. Top black schools are in solid shape. "They are getting the cream of the crop, and some are turning away more students than ever," says William Cox, managing editor of the biweekly trade journal Black Issues in Higher Education. Cox and other experts say that such schools include Fisk in Nashville, Florida A&M, Hampton in Hampton, Va., Howard in Washington, D.C., Morehouse and Spelman in Atlanta, Tuskegee in Tuskegee, Ala. and Xavier in New Orleans (for MONEY's ranking of the best buys in black colleges, see page 23). Many other institutions, though, are under constant financial pressure, brought on by several factors. To attract students, private black colleges tend to charge relatively low tuition and fees -- an average of $4,848, less than half the national average of $10,017 for all private colleges. They also devote a generous 20% of their budgets to financial aid: The figure is 8% at the typical private college. And they generally have small endowments ($8,117 per student, vs. $30,856 at the average private liberal arts college) partly because they are not able to call on legions of wealthy alumni for support. The lack of resources has painful consequences. Faculty at black schools earned an average of $31,951 in 1989-90, about 80% of the $40,133 average at all colleges. Furthermore, says sociologist Bruce Hare, who heads the department of African-American studies at Syracuse University, "Most traditionally black colleges are not financially able to have the kinds of laboratories, research materials and computers that are available at highly prestigious white universities.'' Legal threats. Several far-reaching lawsuits threaten the future of state- supported black higher education. In Mississippi, to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court desegregation order, the state's board of higher education has recommended that two of its three traditionally black colleges, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State, be merged into larger, predominantly white schools. (The third, Jackson State, would remain independent.) Many black advocacy groups are fighting the proposal. The struggle's outcome is likely to set the tone for how other states, such as Alabama and Louisiana, handle similar desegregation issues. Regardless of what happens in the courts, Cox of Black Issues believes that black public colleges will still face the threat of being phased out: "It comes down to money," he says. "Can states afford to fund two separate university systems? Can black state schools continue to get by without adequate resources? If not, these schools might eventually have to close." Should that happen, people like Crystal Warwell who want to study on an African-American campus will eventually have many fewer choices.


A fourth of African-American college graduates earn their bachelor's degrees at historically black colleges.

Only 2.5% of the faculty at mostly white private colleges are black, vs. 60% at private black schools.