Business Education and Historically Black Colleges and Universities

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Friday, March 1, 2019
By Alicia Jackson, Edward L. Davis, Barron Harvey
Photo by iStock
HBCUs are an important part of the U.S. higher education system. They play a vital role for people of color seeking a unique educational experience.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played a very important role for African-American families and their communities as colleges that provided African-Americans their first access to higher education. Today HBCUs, as they are referred to, are still an important and integral part of the higher education system in the U.S., and they are still playing that vital role for people of color seeking a unique and special educational experience. HBCUs are probably more important today than ever before because they provide minority students, and particularly African-American students, an opportunity to gain a college education experience in an extremely supportive environment.

The history of HBCUs has shown that the transformational effect has been significant and that a higher portion of African-American students graduate on par with their majority counterparts and are able to compete effectively in a number of business areas including accounting, finance, information systems, marketing, supply chain and logistics, and others. Today, many HBCUs are seeing an increase in their enrollments and admissions applications.

There is a myth that students who study at HBCUs are not prepared to enter the real world or the world that is dominated by the majority culture. That is simply not true. Our campuses have historically been diverse. One element to note is the makeup of the faculty and administration at HBCUs: our faculty are not only African-American but include large percentages of white and international faculty, and have a healthy gender mix as well. In addition, internships and other interactions with corporate representatives at our school provide students with the necessary experience to enter larger society and gain opportunities in corporate America.

Impact of HBCUs

The impact of HBCUs can be seen in some of the statistics, including one recent survey conducted as part of the Gallup-Purdue Index. It found that 55 percent of black students who completed their degrees at HBCUs reported that the school prepared them for life after graduation, compared to just 30 percent of students who did not attend an HBCU. In addition, the survey showed that more than 40 percent of black HBCU graduates were doing extremely well financially, whereas only 29 percent of their non-HBCU counterparts could say the same. Often students are asked why they chose to attend an HBCU, and while that is a multifaceted question with a multifaceted response, the bottom line is that it is a unique experience for students that builds character and confidence for them to succeed in life.

The influence of HBCUs can also be seen in graduate and specialized education, contributing to some of society’s most essential careers. HBCUs represent nine of the top 10 colleges that graduate most of the African-American students who continue their education and attain PhDs. In addition, more than 50 percent of the nation’s African-American teachers and 70 percent of dentists and doctors earn their graduate degrees at HBCUs. From a business standpoint, more African-American CPAs are graduates of HBCUs than other institutions, and more associates on Wall Street are HBCUs graduates. These are but a few facts that point to the most important aspect of the higher education experience: HBCUs prepare students to succeed.

Business Education at HBCUs

Eighty-three of the 100 HBCUs now offer degrees at the bachelor’s level or higher. Early in their history, HBCUs focused on the trades and teacher training. However, the concern for business education of African-Americans dates back to the 1895 Atlanta Exposition. It wasn’t until the 1930s when formal business units at had their start at these institutions, with the first graduate training in business occurring in the early 1940s. Today, HBCUs face the same issues, opportunities, and challenges that confront all those involved in management education. Rapid changes in the business world impel business schools to hire the very best faculty and adapt by changing their curricula and delivery modes.

Business schools, through organizations such as AACSB International, stay current by exchanging best practices and networking with peers at workshops and meetings. Through the years, organizational structures have been created to foster these same activities among business school faculty and administrators at HBCUs.

In the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s, the International Association of Black Business Educators provided a forum for faculty at HBCUs to learn and to share successes and failures as a means to enhance the education of their students. The organization provided workshops and seminars on current trends in management education.

Then in the ’90s, Nissan and ETS took on the challenge of faculty development at HBCUs. The Nissan Fellows program evolved into the Society of HBCU Fellows. Over a period of years, affinity groups by discipline allowed HBCU faculty to be exposed to cutting-edge research and knowledge in their respective fields. Originally the workshops were held on campuses at majority-serving institutions like UCLA and Northwestern University and later moved to HBCUs, among them Tennessee State University, Tuskegee University, and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. After seven years, Nissan and ETS withdrew their sponsorship and the organization floundered. The society ended in early 2000.

Today’s HBCU Networks

The two most enduring of these networking organizations, however, are the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable (Roundtable) and the Management Education Alliance (MEA). The Roundtable was conceived in 1997 with the support of Earl Graves, of Black Enterprise Magazine, who assembled a group of 12 HBCU deans at the magazine’s headquarters in New York. The discussion at that meeting centered on the role of HBCUs in preparing African-American students for future careers in business. For the first few years, Graves provided support by hosting Roundtable meetings at Black Enterprise-sponsored events. Subsequently, Roundtable meetings were held in conjunction with other meetings, such as AACSB and Southern Business Deans annual meetings.

In January 2003, the Roundtable was approached by the National HBCU Presidents Council and Enterprise Rent-A-Car about the possibility of hosting an annual HBCU School of Business Leadership Summit. The inaugural summit was hosted by Harris Stowe State College and Enterprise Rent-A-Car in June of that year. The HBCU Business Deans Roundtable Summit held its 15th meeting in New York in June 2018 with a conference theme of diversity and inclusion. Currently, membership in the Roundtable consists of over 60 HBCU business schools and business programs.

The Management Education Alliance was started in 1992 by a few deans at AACSB-accredited HBCUs and Harvard professor Frank Aguilar. MEA is a partnership between 11 HBCU and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI), six Predominantly White Institutions (PWI), and sponsoring corporations. It is dedicated to fostering professional growth and development among business educators in schools serving African-American and Hispanic-American students.

Faculty at member schools are able to participate in executive education workshops and international study tours offered at the PWI institutions, as well as other development opportunities provided by member schools and corporate partners. The alliance also facilitates career placement opportunities for its graduates with MEA corporate members. It has been quite successful in addressing its goals of faculty development, curricular innovation, and institutional enrichment.

Opportunities to Collaborate With HBCUs

Today, there is an important opportunity for majority-serving business schools to partner with HBCUs. When top business schools look at the enrollment in their MBA and master’s programs, they will find that a significant number of their diverse students are graduates of HBCUs. Here is where schools can take greater advantage of the well-prepared and talented students graduating from our institutions; we encourage you to reach out to develop unique partnerships that increase the opportunities for these students to do graduate and professional work at majority-serving schools. For example, the Wharton School and Morgan State’s Earl Graves School of Business and Management collaboration focuses on faculty development and student academic programs.

The trajectory of business education at HBCUs has not yet peaked; with a history of structural support through corporations and associations—many HBCU business schools are members of AACSB’s Business Education Alliance, and 22 are accredited—now the new opportunities lie in connecting with other institutions that recognize the value that students with diverse experiences and perspectives bring to the classroom, as well as the workplace.

Jackson formerly served as dean of the business colleges at Albany State University, Susquehanna University, and Tuskegee University. She is currently treasurer of the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable and is a member of the AACSB International board of directors.

Harvey has served as the founding president of the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable, a past member of the AACSB International board of directors, and current chair of the Management Education Alliance.

Davis is a founder and current president of the National HBCU Business Deans Roundtable and executive director of the Management Education Alliance.

Alicia Jackson
Dean, College of Professional Studies, Albany State University
Edward L. Davis
Professor, Christine McEachern Smith Chair, and Former Dean, School of Business, Clark Atlanta University
Barron Harvey
Dean and Frank Ross/KPMG Endowed Professor, School of Business, Howard University
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