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XavierOnassis

What about Historically Black Colleges and Universities?

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I graduated in 1960 from high school and decided to major in Spanish, as there was a shortage of foreign language teachers and the Sputnik crisis caused the government to fund the National Defense Education Act to encourage students to become language teachers. Spanish was at that time, as now, the most popular FL taught in the US. I worked my way through college and only had to borrow about $1500 from the NDEA to get my BA in 1964. I taught HS and saved my money and eventually completed my MA and PhD. At that time (1972) the majority of the Spanish teachers and professors in the country, like myself, did not have Hispanic names.

 

By the time I had graduated, two huge problems regarding my employment possibilities arose: (1) the US admitted a large numbet of Cubans and began training them as Spanish teachers. and (2) the Equal Opportunities legislation required universities to give preference to Hispanics in colleges and universities, abd where better to hire them than as Spanish professors? The idea was to make up for discrimination against Mexican and Puerto Rican Americans and others who had been discriminated against in the past. Thois was a noble intention as I see it, but the result was that although I had graduated Magna cum Laude, I was passed over for teaching positions for people who had just arrived in the country from Spain, Guatemala, Chile and other Hispanic counties, many of them not citizens and unable to speak English. Teaching Spanish to English speaking students, in my opinion, requires at least some knowledge of the English language, which is in many ways grammaticly different from Spanish.

 

So as the say, if God gives you lemons, make lemonade, and I took a job teaching at a private historically Black college (HBCU) at a salary abiut 2/3rds to half that of a state university, which had a very diverse faculty and did not need to hire any particular nationality of professors. I taught there, teaching mostly basic Spanish courses, for 32 years.

 

This was in Florida, where schools were segregated until the Civil Rights act, and one original purpose of the college was to train Black teachers for the segregated "Negro" school system. All that had ended by the time I began teaching there, and many of the professors who taught there before 1960 had left to teach in the public schools, which paid more and had to hire teachers with more advanced degrees. Under segregation, many of the Black schools were staffed by techers with less than a BA degree.

 

(continued)

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By the time I started teaching, well qualified Black students could get scholarships to public universities. This meant that the College admitted a majority of students who had serious deficiencies in English (reading, writing, public speaking) and math. Many of my students did not have a mastery of standard English and resented the fact that in recent times, Hispanics (mostly from Cuba, then later from other Hispanic countries) had replaced Blacks in many jobs, and they did not want to learn any foreign language. But it was a required subject, which made sense, since in the area of the College, over half of the public school students were Spanish speaking.

 

It was a difficult job to teach my students. The general attitude was not to purchase the book and to rely on "the curve" to pass the course without actually learning much. I did not, as other teachers, give the usual multiple choice and True False tests, because such tests cannot reflect any real language ability. Basically, learning any language involves (1) memorizing the words and (2) how to communicate by using the words, often changing them to reflect person and number singular and plural and other grammatical forms. But I persevered and was known as a hard but fair professor who would not hesitate to fail students who did not learn what was indicated in the course outline. I used a numerical grading system, and called on every student who was present on as close to a daily basis as possible.

 

I did this until I retired. Luckily, there was a fully vested pension system (instituted because the administration before I came had withheld retirement contributions and spent them rather than depositing them as per terms of the contract), and because I was able to invest them on my own, managed to retire without worrying about my income. I don't live in anything anyone would call luxury and have yet to buy a car, refrigerator, washing machine or stove new. My parents taught me this from their exepriences during the Great Depression.

 

Recently, HBCU's, especially those that are not state funded, have lost enrollment. This is partly because of competition from the private for-profit colleges lihe Mackey Brown and Everest and such that spend huge amounts of money in recruitment. Most students at private HBCU's and for-profits are attending on Pell Grants and subsidized loans. The loans must be paid back and cannot be dismissed because of bankruptcy. The graduation rate of the school where I taught is a rather poorly guarded secret, but after 5 years, something like 17% of those who started college anywhere graduate from the place where i taught. That means that around 80% have rather large loans and no degree that would help them get a better paying job.

 

Most of those who enroll drop out within two years because they do not pass the courses. The College has special courses and labs for students who have reading and math problems, but they are rather poorly attended. Some return after 5-10 years. Many of the best students deduce that they can attend a local public college and graduate with much less debt from an state or county institution with a better reputation, and transfer out. Many of those who do graduate are students who previously flunked out of state and county institutions, and enrolled at my College with all their D's and F's removed on the condition that they pass equivalent courses at the College.

 

Overall, enrollement at HBCU's has declined by around 30%. My College has a new administration and has abolished tenure (which we struggled to get for 20 years) as well as the College's contribution to the 403(B) retirement fund. And they have cut salaries by 3% and no one has received a raise since 2007. The administration, however, is paid sis figure salaries, and there are what I think is an excessive number of them. Faculty are paid less than 80% of what they would receive in the K-12 public school system.

 

I am no longer dependent in any way on the survival of the College, but many of my colleages are. In order to raise the garduation rate, the "core curriculum" has been altered to require those courses students pass at a higher rate: the language requirement has been abolished and now my job is done by temporary part-time adjuncts, most of whom do not stay long or make much of an effort to teach anything, from what I am told. The state requires that all teachers pass a test for certification. Of eight graduates, only one passed the state exam: the rest will have to retake the exam at some point before they can get a permanent teaching position in the state. The Social Science Department has no exit exams, and large numbers of students who tried and failed to pass exams to get degrees in science, business and education have transferred into that department, because it is easy: most grades are based on perfomence on multiple choice and T/F exams.

 

So I am beginning to question the reasons for the existence of colleges like mine, because most of those who enter do not complete a degree, but nearly all (there are some foreign students that do not get US aid) end up owing a lot of money and have no degree at all.

 

Please refrain from commenting if you are one of the resident racists. This is a serious issue and pro-slavery comments and pictures of gorillas add nothing to the conversation.


By the time I started teaching, well qualified Black students could get scholarships to public universities. This meant that the College admitted a majority of students who had serious deficiencies in English (reading, writing, public speaking) and math. Many of my students did not have a mastery of standard English and resented the fact that in recent times, Hispanics (mostly from Cuba, then later from other Hispanic countries) had replaced Blacks in many jobs, and they did not want to learn any foreign language. But it was a required subject, which made sense, since in the area of the College, over half of the public school students were Spanish speaking.

 

It was a difficult job to teach my students. The general attitude was not to purchase the book and to rely on "the curve" to pass the course without actually learning much. I did not, as other teachers, give the usual multiple choice and True False tests, because such tests cannot reflect any real language ability. Basically, learning any language involves (1) memorizing the words and (2) how to communicate by using the words, often changing them to reflect person and number singular and plural and other grammatical forms. But I persevered and was known as a hard but fair professor who would not hesitate to fail students who did not learn what was indicated in the course outline. I used a numerical grading system, and called on every student who was present on as close to a daily basis as possible.

 

I did this until I retired. Luckily, there was a fully vested pension system (instituted because the administration before I came had withheld retirement contributions and spent them rather than depositing them as per terms of the contract), and because I was able to invest them on my own, managed to retire without worrying about my income. I don't live in anything anyone would call luxury and have yet to buy a car, refrigerator, washing machine or stove new. My parents taught me this from their exepriences during the Great Depression.

 

Recently, HBCU's, especially those that are not state funded, have lost enrollment. This is partly because of competition from the private for-profit colleges lihe Mackey Brown and Everest and such that spend huge amounts of money in recruitment. Most students at private HBCU's and for-profits are attending on Pell Grants and subsidized loans. The loans must be paid back and cannot be dismissed because of bankruptcy. The graduation rate of the school where I taught is a rather poorly guarded secret, but after 5 years, something like 17% of those who started college anywhere graduate from the place where i taught. That means that around 80% have rather large loans and no degree that would help them get a better paying job.

 

Most of those who enroll drop out within two years because they do not pass the courses. The College has special courses and labs for students who have reading and math problems, but they are rather poorly attended. Some return after 5-10 years. Many of the best students deduce that they can attend a local public college and graduate with much less debt from an state or county institution with a better reputation, and transfer out. Many of those who do graduate are students who previously flunked out of state and county institutions, and enrolled at my College with all their D's and F's removed on the condition that they pass equivalent courses at the College.

 

Overall, enrollement at HBCU's has declined by around 30%. My College has a new administration and has abolished tenure (which we struggled to get for 20 years) as well as the College's contribution to the 403( B) retirement fund. And they have cut salaries by 3% and no one has received a raise since 2007. The administration, however, is paid sis figure salaries, and there are what I think is an excessive number of them. Faculty are paid less than 80% of what they would receive in the K-12 public school system.

 

I am no longer dependent in any way on the survival of the College, but many of my colleages are. In order to raise the garduation rate, the "core curriculum" has been altered to require those courses students pass at a higher rate: the language requirement has been abolished and now my job is done by temporary part-time adjuncts, most of whom do not stay long or make much of an effort to teach anything, from what I am told. The state requires that all teachers pass a test for certification. Of eight graduates, only one passed the state exam: the rest will have to retake the exam at some point before they can get a permanent teaching position in the state. The Social Science Department has no exit exams, and large numbers of students who tried and failed to pass exams to get degrees in science, business and education have transferred into that department, because it is easy: most grades are based on perfomence on multiple choice and T/F exams.

 

So I am beginning to question the reasons for the existence of colleges like mine, because most of those who enter do not complete a degree, but nearly all (there are some foreign students that do not get US aid) end up owing a lot of money and have no degree at all.

 

Please refrain from commenting if you are one of the resident racists. This is a serious issue and pro-slavery comments and pictures of gorillas add nothing to the conversation.

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Please refrain from commenting if you are one of the resident racists. This is a serious issue and pro-slavery comments and pictures of gorillas add nothing to the conversation.

 

This is the L.O. room. Only serious, unbiased posts will be allowed. Any insincere/insulting material, mocking or trash talk will disappear.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

Thanks for an informative, autobiographical post. I am no expert in education. Perhaps one of the teachers who post in this room could lend better insight. Still, from my reading, you paint a dismal picture of the HBCU in which you taught. The business model of the school seems to fit today's corporation with excess people at top who tend to be overcompensated while the actual instructors are underpaid and given little incentive to excellence.

 

It seems disgraceful that so few students get degrees, yet end up in debt. It sounds like the college has little educational reason for existence but continues because people at the top are making very good money from it. Many of the students probably need some degree of remedial help before embarking on higher education. And after that, many might do better in mixed colleges or universities where there is more competition.

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There are several private and public HBCU's that are effective at education: Howard Univesity, Spelman and Morehouse and Fisk seem to be among those. Since I have no personal experience with others, I do not claim to be an authority on any other than the place where I taught.

 

I would say that the private for-profit institutions are a far worse problem, because they have high tuitions rates, pay their mostly part time adjunct faculty less than a living wage, and graduate an even smaller percentage of those who enroll, and cater to all Americans not just Blacks.

 

The University of Phoenix is the largest, but probably by no means the worst. Bilking returned veterans is a particular specialty of these colleges. Some of these have paid half of their income on promortion and recruitment. My college sucked at recruitment. They would not pay enough to get experienced recruiters and hired people who were mostly good at promoting themselves. When they failed to recruit the number of students they were commissioned to do, they were fired. One constant was every Fall, we were told that we might get a raise, or a bigger raise, if recruitment goals were met. This never happened, not even once.

 

To attract really good students, you need to have a reputation of being an intelectually serious institution. But you cannot do this, because you lack the reputation. Really serious and dedicated Black students have little difficulty getting a scholarship. I know this because at least eight of my colleagues had really good students in their children. Three went to Harvard, Two to Vanderbuilt, the others to the University of FL. Full academic scholarships, even. We did get students from the Bahamas who were really serious. As a rule, they made straight A's and knew enough math to realize that they could get a more prestigious degree from another of the area schools and pay less in tuition, and we rarely saw them after two semesters.

 

I know about who graduated and who dropped out because I had access to everyone's academic records. When I noticed that none of the students (as in zero) ever graduated, I checked the records spoke with their advisors and discovered that they transferred out. Then I checked the records of those who we did graduate, and they mostly had transferred in from elsewhere. They typically had records of completing five to ten hours per semester elsewhere, which suggests they made D's and F's in other classes and then those were eliminated from their transcripts by our Registrar. Typically, they were in their mid to late 20's.

 

I tried everything to encourage students to get the book and to study, including daily pop quizzes over ten words revealed by me in advance. Half the class actually managed to score below 50% on these quizzes. Students who skipped class wewre given 0's unless they gave me some excuse for missing class. All excuses were accepted.

 

Of course, the way we teach FL's in the US makes little sense: three classes per week for 15 weeks per semester is not an adequate amount of time to develop fluency in a language. That comes down to about 75 hours of instruction. (3×50 minutes×90 classes). I always had a few students who could carry on a conversation. I gave "special credit" to those who would come by to chat with me in Spanish, but I had few takers... except those who had missed most of the classes and wanted to make it all up with "extra credit" and I didn't allow that, because proved to be a waste of time.

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