Since retiring from active university leadership I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the future of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and advocating on their behalf. Over the past eighteen months, I've crisscrossed the country making speeches, appearing on radio talk shows, conducting workshops, participating in think-tank discussions and facilitating an array of conversations between higher education leaders and potential collaborators.
If anyone had told me five years ago that I, a baby boomer, would embrace and utilize social media as fully as I r have recently, I would not have believed them! From Twitter and LinkedIn to Facebook and blogging, I use every tool at my disposal to advocate for HBCUs on the one hand and to challenge them on the other to focus more intentionally on student success. Achieving significant and sustainable gains in student success requires distributed leadership; strategic investments, focus and follow through, among others.
June 19-21, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, APLU, under the auspices of the APLU Council of 1890 Universities, hosted the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Student Success Summit in Atlanta, GA. The summit brought together more than 200 participants including presidents, chief academic officers, faculty members, enrollment management personnel, retention program managers, foundation representatives and community partners, among others.
There were also participants from Predominately White Institutions, PWIs, on hand to share what they are doing to enhance student success and to learn about what works at HBCUs. The summit organizer, Dr. John Michael Lee, Jr., APLU's Vice President for Access and Success, encouraged participants to C.A.S.E. the event, Copy and Steal Everything! Throughout the three day event, the presentations were relevant and the conversation between presenters and session participants was robust.
As a long time university leader and ardent advocate for HBCUs, the Summit reinforced several key issues for me:
1. It's not enough to simply retain and graduate more students; HBCUs must ensure that students graduate with a high quality education which has value in the global marketplace;
2. HBCUs can't keep doing what they have always done and expect different outcomes;
3. Inter-institutional collaboration is essential for enhancing student success. At the same time, numerous unexploited opportunities exist for intra-institutional collaboration;
4. The population served by HBCUs is not monolithic and adjustments must be made to ensure that the needs of all students are met;
5. GLBT students constitute a major segment of the HBCU student population and deserve the respect and responsiveness of college presidents and other members of the university community;
6. HBCUs cannot achieve the student success levels to which they aspire without the full engagement of all members of the university community;
7. There are no magic bullets and one size does not fit all;
8. HBCUs must use data, not their emotions, to drive decisions about how best to respond to student needs;
9. To achieve the results to which we aspire deserves student ownership and full engagement,
10. African American males face a unique set of challenges that HBCUs must acknowledge and confronted.
Were there new discoveries revealed during the Summit? No, not really. What was evident was the high level of energy and enthusiasm exhibited by those in attendance. I was impressed by the resolve of the young professionals there who could work virtually anywhere, but who choose to work at an HBCU. They exuded an extraordinary level of passion and commitment to a cause much greater than themselves.
Student academic success is not a spectator activity. It is requires an "all hands" approach to fulfill the promise of American higher education.