Despite Funding Challenges, HBCUs Graduate Top Talent
SALISBURY, NC (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Graduation is a celebration of success for every student who crosses the stage, but for Moquesha Ingram, every step is even sweeter.
“It’s amazing to be a first-time graduate and my immediate family,” Ingram said.
Ingram received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Livingstone College, Salisbury, North Carolina.
“After I graduate, I plan to take nursing classes and work my way up the system to become this pediatric neurologist,” Ingram said.
Livingstone is one of more than 100 historically black colleges and universities across the country.
The majority of HBCUs are in the south, but they extend as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south into the Virgin Islands. In the late 1800s, it was illegal for black Americans to read and write. HBCUs were the first institutions to do this on a large scale.
Dr. Anthony Davis, senior vice president for institutional advancement at Livingstone College, said HBCUs were the first institutions to educate black Americans on a large scale.
“There was this period called segregation, where African Americans weren’t allowed access to mainstream mainstream institutions, mostly white institutions,” Dr. Davis said. “That’s how these institutions were founded.”
HBCUs came about in many ways, some were started by the federal government, others were started by white religious leaders or segregationists. Livingstone College was a product of African-American ministers.
“Members of the AME Zion Church, descendants of freed slaves, birthed this bold idea to start the school,” Dr. Davis said. “They were founded in 1879, that is shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation and shortly after June 19. [The founders] had a sly suspicion that education would be the real emancipator and not the document signed by President Lincoln.
Before being renamed Livingstone, it was the Zion Wesley Institute in Concord. The school was moved to Salisbury on land that was once a slave plantation. Many HBCUs have a similar story about their campus grounds.
“The land we walk on every day was land cultivated by our ancestors, in this institution called slavery,” Dr Davis said.
Many HBCUs are the sites of significant historical events. In 1892, Livingstone hosted the first black college football game on the school lawn.
“They didn’t have a soccer ball, so they pooled their resources to buy the ball. They had no uniforms. The uniforms were made by the industrial arts department on campus. They took their dress shoes and drove iron studs or nails into the soles of their shoes to get cleats,” Dr Davis said. “It speaks to the self-reliance and determination of HBCUs.”
The game is now a 100+ year old tradition called the Commemorative Classic. The venue for the game alternates between the Livingstone campus and Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte.
President Jimmy Jenkins says gambling is a great source of income for the community.
“People come from far and wide to see these two institutions still playing against each other,” Dr. Jenkins said. “From a tourism point of view and from a destination point of view, we bring a lot of resources.”
When visitors arrive at the Livingstone campus, it’s almost like walking through a museum. You will find the mausoleum, where Joseph Price, the first president of the university is buried.
You see the Horseshoe, which is the meeting place of the nine divine sororities and fraternities on campus.
You’ll also notice crumbling buildings, it’s a familiar story on HBCU campuses across the country.
A Government Accountability Office report found that across the country, each HBCU needs an average of $46 million in repairs.
“We have to make decisions. Are we using the resources we have to try to make sure we can maintain classes, keep up with equipment, pay lighting bills and things of that nature? Let’s try to find ways to improve the buildings,” asked Dr Jenkins. “It’s a tough draw to do.”
Data from the American Council of Education indicates that over a 12-year period, public and private HBCUs experienced the largest declines in federal funding per full-time student.
“We are way beyond our means, but we could think of what we could do. If we had the resources to actually be able to shoulder the burden and provide additional resources for additional work and additional support,” Dr. Jenkins said.
Congress acknowledges the underfunding of HBCUs. In May 2021, lawmakers introduced the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act to provide financial resources for long-term improvements. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina is co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
“What we’ve seen over the past few years is that the more we focus on HBCUs, the more likely we are to have success across the country in all aisles,” Senator Scott said. “So what IGNITE is doing is giving us another opportunity to focus on funding our HBCUs.”
Senator Scott said he hoped for a vote early this year.
“The future is really bright for our nation because we are putting more emphasis on our historically black colleges and universities,” Senator Scott said.
HBCUs graduate some of the nation’s top doctors, lawyers, engineers, and more. Students like Ingram say they come away with more than just a degree.
“It’s a blessing that they can provide an education for their students and still be around for so many years. It’s just a blessing to graduate from a historic place,” Ingram said.