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Why HBCUs?

HBCUs Important to Economic, Social Parity

Emanuel Cleaver, II

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are an important part of our community and have done much to help individuals achieve both economic and social parity in this nation. Before the advent of affirmative action, many people of color were denied the path to higher education based on their race. For a long time, Historically Black Colleges and Universities were the only conduit by which African Americans could achieve educational parity. Many of the greatest leaders in our community graduated or attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities and many of them would not have had the chance to further their lives and contribute to this nation if it were not for the opportunities provided to them by HBCUs.

While HBCUs have done great work for our community in the past, they are also vital to the future success of college students. African American unemployment is currently at 13.6 percent, far higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent. I believe part of that gap can be closed with an increased focus on the attainment of higher education. Obtaining some form of higher education certification drastically lowers the rate of unemployment. Not only does higher education increase the chances of getting a job, it also ensures job stability and higher income. It is important that we continue our support of HBCUs as a vital part of the educational community and as a means to further economic equality.

President Barack Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus have recognized the importance of these institutions and are strongly committed to ensuring that their good work continues. For Fiscal Year 2011 President Obama signed the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which proposed $98 million in new funds for these historic institutions. Another $55 million was allocated for a new initiative to increase college access, with up to $20 million going directly to minority serving institutions. Additionally, $30 million was proposed for a new competitive grant process to improve teacher education programs in HBCUs. We believe that these additional funds will assist these capable institutions in maintaining their competitive advantage for all students.

I began my college career at Murray State University, but left after continuous racial attacks and incidents. The final straw was when one of my teammates was kicked in the back by our football coach while he was on the ground. Every black player left Murray State that day, and I enrolled in Prairie View A&M University. I knew at Prairie View that there would no longer be any excuses. We were no longer worried about being discriminated against and I could finally focus on achieving on and off the field. The turbulent times we lived in could no longer disrupt my pursuit for higher education.

Attending an HBCU is an experience that uniquely prepares students for the harsh world that is slowly but surely still evolving from our nation’s dark racist past. Most of our children would not have had the chance to receive a higher education or more importantly, a chance to pursue the American dream if it was not for our HBCUs. I remain committed along with the Members of the Congressional Black Caucus to the protection and uplifting of our nation’s historic institutions. Long live HBCUs.


Emanuel Cleaver, II, represents Missouri’s 5th Congressional District and is the Former Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He graduated from Prairie View A&M University in 1968.