Morris Brown president speaks out on battle for HBCUs

For more than a century, historically black colleges and universities — HBCUs — have focused on educating the nation’s African-Americans, who were once barred from attending school with whites.

At one point, these institutions were responsible for awarding 90 percent of the degrees earned by blacks.

Today, they only attract an estimated 15 percent of African-American college students, leaving many HBCUs fighting not just to remain relevant, but also to pay bills and keep the doors open.

Morris Brown College in Atlanta is one such campus. Its enrollment has dwindled to fewer than 150 students. It has lost its accreditation. Dr. Stanley Pritchett is the school’s president.

“Even though HBCUs make up less than 5-percent of all the higher education enrollment, we still graduate 20 to 30 percent of those in the engineering and technology fields,” Prichett said. “Forty percent of the African-Americans that are graduating from the HBCU’s are educators. So we still are still carrying our load.”

One of the challenges the institution has had to overcome more recently is dealing with the water issue.

“All of sudden because you are dealing with financial challenges that you don’t have the service of a utility like water that it almost forces you to shutdown,” Pritchett said. “That forced us to try to rally people to recognize and understand. It was a successful rally. We raised almost $400,000 in sixty days to get that particular obligation taken care of to continue.”

The water will stay on at Atlanta’s Morris Brown College.

“The problem with people and HBCUs is they identify them as black institutions,” Pritchett said. “These are historically black institutions. We were founded on the principles of trying to be a self-help organization to allow for the black people that could not get an education to be able to come here. But that does not make it non relevant as we move into the 21st century, because we still have a mission and we still have a vision that can be all-encompassing to any group that wants to come and be a part of it.”

Read the opinion of an HBCU grad who says black colleges are still relevant.