Are Black Colleges Becoming Irrelevant in an Integrated Society?

Predominantly black colleges like Tuskegee University are facing budget cuts as some ask if the colleges are even relevant anymore.
Predominantly black colleges like Tuskegee University are facing budget cuts as some ask if the colleges are even relevant anymore.

Black colleges have educated some of the brightest minds for more than a century. But some are questioning their relevance today since schools are now integrated. Even President Bush is considering a cut in their funding.

Historically black colleges have produced some of the icons of black history. From actors to astronauts, a U.S. Supreme Court judge and a supremely talented talk show host. Today some are thriving, others are almost broke and most fall somewhere in between.

Compared with big state universities, the black colleges face a huge disparity in state funding, and President Bush has proposed cutting $85 million in federal funds this fall. And since they were founded to educate black students who couldn't attend white schools 100 years ago - some have questioned whether they're even relevant today.

When asked if there is something special about the schools Monique Gillum says "There is." She chose Florida A&M over traditional liberal arts colleges. She says she didn't want to repeat high school where hardly any of her advanced placement classmates looked like her.

"But now I'm at a campus where there are over 12,000 students who are just as determined, just as intelligent, who take school as seriously as I do. And it's a good feeling, to be around that," she says.

Administrators say black colleges welcome high achievers - and poor students with marginal grades who might not be accepted anywhere else.Dr. James Ammons, President of Florida A&M says, " will find a disproportionate share of limited-resource students at the historically black colleges and universities than you do at the predominantly white institutions."

Tuition at black colleges is typically lower than traditional white schools. And in the past 30 years, they added professional schools of medicine, business and law. That combination attracted a more diverse student body, and historically black schools are now about 12% white.

"I don't see it as a threat. In fact I look at diversity as a strength." Monique says she's a stronger student because of her professors' personal attention. "I can go to any area, and I can compete with what the world's best has to offer. And I'm not afraid of that. There's a confidence that you gain here that I may not have had in high school."

The Bush administration plans to cut $85 million to the black colleges but says a lot of the money will be redirected to grants, giving directly to students. Black colleges say they'll have to cut honor programs, tutors and efforts to recruit minority students to become math and science teachers.