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Spelman College

President's Letter to the Community

Spelman President Responds to the Inaccurate Portrayal of HBCUs by the AJC

Dear Spelman Community,

Below is an open letter I've written to the editors of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution concerning their recent series on historically Black colleges and universities.

February 8, 2018

The Editors
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta, Georgia 30346

Dear AJC Editors:

Atlanta, as we all know, is the American city with the starkest income inequality divide. Higher education, as we also know, is our country's most effective engine of economic and social mobility to close that income divide. Despite that fact, and despite the fact that Atlanta is home to the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of colleges and universities with a record of academic excellence and social mobility — Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Interdenominational Theological Center and Morris Brown College — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution chose to conduct a concerted and prolonged (several weeks of articles) assault on historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

The articles begin by lamenting the graduation rate of 20 percent or below at HBCUs, but they neglect to point out that only 20 percent of all HBCUs have that low rate, which is no different from the percentage of all colleges that experience low degree completion rates.

More egregiously, the reporting omits key facts. According to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), 70 percent of all Black dentists and doctors, 50 percent of Black engineers and public school teachers, and 35 percent of Black lawyers are graduates of HBCUs. Were it not for HBCUs, this country would be hard pressed to point to Black graduates in the STEM field. HBCUs have provided more African-American graduates in STEM fields than all Ivy League colleges combined (and that includes the public Ivy League colleges).

According to a 2013 National Science Foundation report, 21 of the top 50 undergraduate institutions that produce Black science and engineering Ph.D.s are HBCUs. HBCUs, which make up only three percent of Black students in higher education in the U.S., produce nearly 30 percent of African-American students with bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields, according to another report.

Spelman's outcomes are particularly impressive. We produce more Black women who complete Ph.D.s in STEM fields than any other college or university in the country. The AJC articles compare Spelman's graduation rates with Georgia State and the University of Georgia, but fail to point out that our graduation rate for Black women exceeds the graduation rate for Black women nationally, the graduation rate for Black women at liberal arts colleges in general, and the graduation rate for Black women at women's colleges.

College education is considered an engine of social mobility, yet Ivy League institutions have done no better in producing social mobility for students of color than they did in 1985. HBCUs, on the other hand, like Spelman and Clark Atlanta, have been among the top engines of social mobility in their home states. Finally, a Gallup Poll that surveyed over 60,000 college graduates from a range of all colleges and universities published by the Wall Street Journal determined that HBCU graduates had the highest rate of financial, career and emotional well-being of college graduates.

One last observation: The anecdote about the student who chose Georgia Tech suggests that students are losing interest in Spelman. The numbers tell a very different story. In the past three years, applications to Spelman have gone from 5,000 in 2014 to 9,000 for this application cycle, a historic high.

In an era of high need for a STEM work force — particularly for the development of women and minorities in STEM — it is baffling why Atlanta’s newspaper of record would assault one of the region's real assets, a group of institutions with a proven record of success, with 8,000 students and 3,000 (mostly African American) employees who have been linchpins of the city for over a century.


Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.
President, Spelman College