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Celebrating HBCU Success Stories: Reflecting on Their Legacy and Ensuring Sustainability for the Future

Published by Acadeum

Author: Jamila S. Lyn, Director of Specialized Programming, Benedict College

Few institutions carry as much historical significance and promise as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Since their inception, HBCUs have operated as sanctuaries of learning and empowerment for Black students during a time when they were barred from other institutions. As the HBCU First timeline illustrates, from 1837 when the first HBCU, Cheney University, was established in Pennsylvania, to 2020 when Virginia Union University launched the Center for the Study of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, these institutions were created to bridge the educational equity gap and create a pathway to success for Black learners long denied access to education.

From their beginnings to their present-day influence, HBCUs have continuously demonstrated the transformative power of education by positioning and preparing students to (1) change the trajectory of their family’s story, (2) compete and be successful in their chosen occupation, and (3) foster empowerment in the communities in which they live, work, and play.

Throughout their history, HBCUs have invested in the “whole” student by offering spaces where students can learn about their history and culture and contribute to the legacy and community of their HBCU. Many HBCU graduates would identify with Zakiyyah Woods’ photo piece “An ode to Benedict College, an HBCU where this student’s dreams were rekindled,” which was featured on NPR. Woods’ photo essay is a testament to the shared joy and the cultural and historical inheritance many students experience attending an HBCU.  

While graduating students is at the heart of HBCUs, the transformative power of education does not end at graduation. As Experience the highlights, HBCUs have educated 40% of all congressmen, 40% of all engineers, 50% of professors at non-HBCUs, 50% of lawyers, and 80% of all judges. Quite literally, HBCUs produce graduates that influence and shape critical industry sectors across the board. Despite historic underfunding and its impact on the continuous development of campus infrastructure, HBCUs remain the hub for students in pursuit of a competitive education, relevant career preparation, and overall social mobility. 

As we dive into the narratives of success fostered by HBCUs, it is essential to recognize the significance of current solutions that help amplify our mission—most importantly, the mission of seeing students graduate on time. The HBCU-MSI Course-Sharing Consortium is a partnership between the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) and Acadeum to provide a network among the region’s historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions to increase equity and access to an expansive course inventory, promote student progression (including credit recovery), and celebrate diverse faculty and campus culture.

Many students who attend HBCUs do not have the financial reserves to spend an extra semester taking a course (or courses) required for their degree; for that reason, the consortium provides an immediate solution to resolve common roadblocks that delay students’ time to graduation. 

As we celebrate the legacy of HBCUs, it is important to center the success stories of our students who continue to thrive in spite of systemic roadblocks intended to stunt their progress. I am energized when I see students graduate, and I get even more excited to see students graduate on time within their degree program. But the reality is sometimes courses aren’t available when a student needs them.

This is why the SREB HBCU-MSI Consortium, powered by the Acadeum network, matters. The value of the consortium has already been realized by several HBCUs; as we continue to strategically scale up, with a focus on student success, course sharing could be the single multiplier that radicalizes the educational landscape for HBCUs and their students.

Let’s look at how the Acadeum network supports the connections between the institutions, making on-time graduation possible for all HBCU students.

Student Success Stories

Allen University is an HBCU located in Columbia, SC, and at the turn of the 20th century, it was one of three law schools among HBCUs. For Allen University, participating in the Acadeum network supports the institution’s goals of ensuring student retention and completion. Justin Fitts, a 2023 Allen University graduate who majored in biology said, “Course sharing helped fulfill two chemistry courses I needed to graduate. The support I received through my home and teaching institutions allowed me to succeed in both courses. Now, I can focus on completing graduate school applications to fulfill my dreams of getting my master’s degree and becoming a pediatric nurse.” 

Benedict College, a private HBCU in Columbia, SC, invested in developing a robust student support model for course sharing, while discovering best practices through their students’ enrollment experiences. Benedict is especially proud of its overall 82% pass rate. Not only has the institution utilized Acadeum’s course inventory during traditional semesters, it also led a winter term initiative, funded by UNCF, to support graduating seniors who needed 1-2 courses to complete their degree on time,     thereby reducing their course load in the spring. Brittaney Orr, a graduate of the class of 2023, reflected on her course sharing experience, “The support and guidance from faculty members across institutions were invaluable, fostering personal growth and encouraging critical thinking. The [SREB HBCU-MSI] Consortium enhanced my academic journey and prepared me for the professional world.” 

Jarvis Christian University (JCU), an HBCU based in Hawkins, TX, recently capitalized on the opportunity to boost summer enrollment. Faculty witnessed course sharing’s potential to help students, and in the summer of 2022, JCU connected 47 students to courses offered by trusted partners in the network. Charlotte Kennedy earned a degree in kinesiology in May 2023. Course sharing created the opportunity for Charlotte to take a biology course and lab that she needed to stay on track and graduate on time, during a shortened winter term. Charlotte said, “With course sharing, I was able to graduate on time and had a superior learning experience.” 

Making an Impact

In just one year, the HBCU-MSI consortium shared 1,461 seats, enabling students to access classes unavailable at their Home Institutions. This collaborative effort has helped solve over 775 course availability roadblocks for students, increasing the ability of member schools to retain students in their current academic programs. In addition, by utilizing courses at partner institutions, HBCUs were able to save $907,919 in adjunct instructional costs by leveraging capacity at peer institutions within the consortium. 

Sustainability for the Future 

In conclusion, while we have looked back at the history of HBCUs, considered the data showing how the consortium supports the efforts of HBCUs, and celebrated student achievement, it is important to look forward toward the sustainability of HBCUs with an eye on the current challenges. For example, HBCUs have always been safe havens for their students and providing this space for students has become even more imperative following recent events like the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action, curriculum censorship, and countless racially motivated attacks against Black people.

In spite of the current challenges, HBCUs continue to shape the minds and spirits of their students, producing generations of leaders, innovators, and change-makers. The rich history of Historically Black Colleges and Universities stands as a testament to Black resilience, determination, and progress. The legacy of HBCUs has not only advanced the cause of education for Black learners but has also contributed significantly to the diverse fabric of American society. As a vital contributor to the advancement of education and social progress for Black people, they remain beacons of opportunity for all learners.

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