Blessing or Curse? Ranking Black Colleges in US News & World Report
_ The original version of this essay appeared in Volume 75 / Number 3 / Fall 2011 -- The Boulé Journal / Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (page 16).
The below excerpts were summarized from The Boulé Journal article and from Vol 4, No. 1 (2012) of the Journal of Unabridged Genius.
First of all to anyone
directly affiliated with the nation's historically black colleges and
universities, congratulations on getting the attention of US News &
World Report, one of the world’s premier publications. This is just
more validation that our communities are major intellectual players
and economic consumers.
The reaction, since 2007, to the
publicity and exposure should give the overall HBCU enterprise a
marketing boost. However, the long term results of the next 2-3
annual “best black colleges” installments may likely lead to less
than stellar results based on five reasons.
The agenda setting role of the
media – According to media theorists Maxwell McCombs and Donald
Shaw, “the media not only tell us what to think about, but how to
think about it, and consequently what to think.” So in this case,
USN&WR tells us what to think about HBCUs, how to think about
them (“…the crossroads or celebrating them…”) and
consequently what to think. Will we need HBCUs or will the growing
audience of scholars and high school students interested in other
predominantly white “best colleges” still continue to be
interested in HBCUs?
No disrespect to Spelman,
Morehouse, Fisk, Tuskegee, Claflin, Xavier, Dillard or Johnson C.
Smith (I have relatives and friends who are graduates of all of
these fine schools), however the key to the entire HBCU enterprise
will be a consensus of HBCU presidents, university relations
representatives, alumni and yes, African-American professional
organizations, that Howard University is the flagship and beacon. For the record, I am not a Howard alumnus. I am an educator and
media researcher. Research extensive universities set the tone and
agenda, not liberal arts colleges. Amherst is not Yale, Pomona is
not Stanford, Davidson is not Duke.
I understand that this annual
issue is designed to be a scientific examination of the
undergraduate experience, however, please show me where the
undergraduate experience at Harvard and Northwestern (perhaps
Howard's true peers) are ever compared with Wellesley or Scripps
(perhaps Spelman's true peers)? It is understood by those who do
scientific studies that as goes Harvard, so goes higher education.
Likewise, as goes Howard, so goes the HBCUs.
As Howard, Spelman and Hampton
continued to rise in USN&WR's general “best colleges”
rankings in recent years, I knew it would be just a matter of time
that this would be slowed or reversed. The question was, “how
would this be done?” The answer was supplied with this separate
annual ranking of HBCU colleges and universities (research through
liberal arts colleges). So I hope that you are not celebrating this
cash cow marketing piece by USN&WR because it may very likely
undermine these and other HBCU gains unless Howard and the other
HBCUs with professional schools dominant the first tier, just as
similar schools do in the other ranking polls. No, I am not opposed
to recognizing or “rising up” HBCU liberal arts and
comprehensive universities and colleges, but a similar “best”
ranking would not be allowed that would directly compare, let's say,
Georgia schools such as Agnes Scott, Emory, Georgia Southern and
Finally, this is not about questioning
the credentials of the USN&WR researchers, but rather about
understanding the sometimes uneven nature of statistics, and what can
be done with them; you know, “lies, damn lies and statistics.”
The good news is that many prominent leaders and decision-makers are now also monitoring this annual rankings phenomenon. I know I
will continue to do so while also continuing to promote HBCUs and all
academic endeavors, including predominately white institutions (PWIs) in the USA, and all others globally that further re-empower our communities worldwide;
from Boston to the Bahamas, and from Hawaii to the Real HU.