HBCU’s vs. PWI’s: Does the Student’s Education and Well-Being Matter More at HBCU’s or PWI’s?

By Italiana Anderson

A support system is something college students need to make it through their college years.  Whether a student gets more support at an HBCU or PWI is a question that still baffles minds to this day.

Financial stability and camaraderie come to mind when these two young, black men decided upon which college they wanted to attend. Choosing between HBCU’s and PWI’s is a simple “different strokes for different folks” kind of issue that is still an ongoing debate.

Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCU) are post-secondary schools that were established and accredited before 1964 and whose principal mission was and is the education of African-Americans.  The creation of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) was for the advancement of African-Americans.  HBCU’s are often frowned upon because people think the education there cannot compare to the education that someone gets at a Predominantly White Institution.  It was not until 1963 that black students integrated Clemson University, where they were not allowed to attend.  This integration is what caused the creation of HBCU’s.

In fact, students who have attended both colleges can give a laundry list of differences between HBCU’s and PWI’s.

Tyler Carter, a general assignment reporter for Alabama Media Group, attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS for his undergraduate and attended the University of Mississippi for graduate school.

Carter received his bachelor’s degree in mass communications/media studies in 2012 from Tougaloo and went on to pursue his master’s degree in Journalism at Ole Miss in 2015.

“I don’t think that Tougaloo is ever someone’s first choice, that may sound bad, but I can honestly say those four years there were the best four years of my life.  It’s just about the cultural differences that Tougaloo gave and the heritage, is what makes it unique. Martin Luther King Jr. slept in one of the classrooms for a night, which is still standing on campus to this day,” he said. “The campus is so historic.”

The historic background that HBCU’s have is what makes students proud to go there as well.  Many historically black colleges in the United States have not changed the architecture of their campuses, like Tougaloo for example, because people like Martin Luther King Jr. have graced the campus with their presence and Tougaloo campus was also a stage for the Freedom Rides.  The history and the hard work it took to have HBCU’s is one of the many reasons they are proud of it.

“Being that Tougaloo is a small, liberal arts college, the environment breathes success.  We are the top HBCU for producing top doctors and lawyers in the country, the environment is just one that you would want to be in. It doesn’t get any better than that to be honest,” Carter said.

While HBCUs constitute just 3% of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, they graduate nearly 20% of black students who earn undergraduate degrees. And more than 50% of African American professionals and public school teachers matriculate from HBCUs.

In addition, approximately 20% of black students earn science and engineering bachelor’s degrees at HBCUs according to the National Science Foundation.

According to USA Today College “important baccalaureate-origin institutions of future black science and engineering doctorate recipients, especially outside the social sciences.”

The transition of a student who comes from an HBCU can bring a swarm of challenges. Culture shock is one thing they deal with because coming from an institution where everyone looks like you and the environment is different can set them back.

When Carter decided to attend Ole Miss for graduate school, Ole Miss had been in his family for a while.  Carter said his uncle played football at Ole Miss in the mid to late 1980s and is charter member for the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.  Carter recalls how he applied to Ole Miss in 2007, but believes his documents got lost and he was never accepted.

“During my college years, as a sophomore I came to Ole Miss for the Black Alumni Week and it was crazy. I was thinking I have to come up here more often and since I visited Ole Miss quite often with cousins of mine, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Carter said.

At times the transition can affect the student or it never does.  In Carter’s case the differences were seen, but they did not alter his decisions about attending graduate school.

“My first year of graduate school kind of sucked because I believe the things that an HBCU provides you with that a PWI doesn’t, in my opinion is camaraderie.  There weren’t many black graduate students when I started and undergrad and grad are completely different.  During undergrad, you have time to make friends and you’re able to go out, but with grad school it’s a lot more reading and studying,” he said. “So, I wasn’t able to make that many friends and that was my biggest adjustment.”

Carter emphasized how he was skeptical about attending Ole Miss after the riot that occurred after former Pres. Obama’s election.

The general conception that people have when they think of Ole Miss is racist but I can’t really say that I have dealt with that when I was there…I wanted to keep an open mind,” Carter said.

Is the other side greener?

On the other side of the spectrum, some African-American students decided to leave a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) and continue their education at an HBCU.

Orion Taylor, Integrated Marketing Communication major, and former Ole Miss rebel decided to take a chance and go to Jackson State University his junior year.

“The reason why I transferred to a different institution was to gain more opportunity and insight for my future post-graduation. I felt as if the university was caught up with the hype of football, a beautiful campus, and ensuring that the name of the university was always in a positive light in which it isn’t a negative thing,” he said. “However, there should have been a balance between ensuring that the students needed everything that they needed was taken care of,” Taylor said.

HBCU’s have been reported to give more support to students from the faculty and staff as to where at a PWI, students felt that their needs were put on the back-burner.  True enough, college is about fending for yourself and being independent, but students feel that their education mattered way more at an HBCU than at a PWI.

“Whenever my professor saw me lacking in certain areas or not coming to class, he would text or call me to see if I was doing okay and to tell me you to improve in these areas…that was something I did not get at Ole Miss, probably only from one of my professors, Alysia Steele. She’ll chew you out and be hard on you, but it’s all out of love,” Carter said.

Students still hold on to the assumption that “support” is better at an HBCU than it is at a PWI.  Carter found that support at his alma mater Tougaloo College and at Ole Miss, even though only one professor cared about his successes.

In that same token, many students that attend Ole Miss have said their professors have supported them just as professors would at HBCUs.  The experiences with support that students have at Ole Miss or any other PWI will be different.

One can still receive a good education at a PWI if they are African-American, Hispanic, or Asian, it is all about how the student blocks out the negative and focuses on the end goal.

As for Taylor, he left Ole Miss to gain more wisdom for his career after college.  He felt that he was not getting that at Ole Miss because people were so caught up in the hype of this “Hotty Toddy Nation”, and did focus on the bigger picture.

“I felt as if he university was a wonderful place; however, I knew my potential and knew that I deserved way more than what I was getting,” Taylor said.

College is What You Make It

Studies have shown that black students who graduate from HBCU’s prosper more financially and socially than students who graduated from PWI’s.  Quite the contrary, Carter is the perfect example of how a student gained degrees from both institutions and is still succeeding post-college.  Taylor, on the other hand is convinced that his successes will be greater after attending Jackson State University.

“I feel way more support at my HBCU, it’s crazy how much I have accomplished in one year! He professors and staff are always there for you. It’s nothing generic at all. Every one of my professors know me by name and they understand that success starts somewhere and they’re going to make sure you gain that,” Taylor said.

This battle between HBCU vs. PWI support is still an ongoing debate.  Will the student get a better job if they graduate from an HBCU or PWI? Is the support system better at HBCU’s? No matter which institution a student graduates from, the important part of this whole debate is that the student is successful no matter what type of education or support they have.  It is all about how the student is influenced at the end of the day.

Below are videos on the HBCU vs. PWI debate and students who have attended both that talk about the PROs & CONs:

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