A newly-enacted law concerning Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Tennessee is the first of its kind in the nation. Its goal is to increase opportunities, decrease retention rates, and ultimately ensure that the state has the highest portion of HBCU graduates in the nation.
House Bill 553, which was sponsored by Democrat Senators Harold Love Jr. and Reginald Tate and signed into law in June, targets all seven HBCUs in the state.
Nashville is the home to the only public four-year HBCU, Tennessee State University. The other six colleges are private four-year institutions: American Baptist College, Fisk University and Meharry Medical College in Nashville; Knoxville College in Knoxville;Lane College in Jackson Le Moyne- Owen College in Memphis.
“Historically Black Colleges train students in ways they can’t be taught anywhere else,” Love said. “It instills in them cultural competency. It gives teachers, doctors and lawyers an understanding of the underserved communities they come in contact with and shows them how to deal with and better communicate with students, patients, and future clients that have experienced poverty. Historically Black colleges were never created to segregate but to provide mechanisms for African Americans to be educated and it’s our job to keep them going.”
Under the new law which went into effect June 25, the state has allocated salary money for an executive director to work with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. The director will be the point of contact for a new board of advisors including representatives of philanthropy, education, business, finance, entrepreneurship, innovation and the current Tennessee HBCU presidents. The process to select a director has begun and the new director is expected to be hired within the next month.
“The bill is building the foundation for a house to be built, then what happens when a house is built, people will move in and eventually build on and renovate,” Love said. “And eventually once HBCUs in Tennessee start to grow and become more successful, other states will take pursuit and follow our lead.”
The purpose of college is to continue the education of students in the field they decide to pursue, Love said. HBCUs are colleges before they are anything else. Currently these colleges have been struggling when it comes to retention, personnel, and being underfunded.
According to an NBC Nightly news report, while HBCUs represent only 3 percent of U.S. colleges they produce 17 percent of African Americans with bachelor’s degrees and 24 percent of all black scientists and engineers. And HBCUs have continued to serve academically and financially disadvantaged students also known as ‘at risk’.
Love, who graduated from TSU,“The mission of HBCUs was and always has been to help. HBCUs were not designed to segregate, they were designed because African Americans were not being allowed to attend regular universities. They are still allowing others access to a higher education, I can’t emphasize the need for HBCUs enough.”