On paper, Bluefield State College is a notable historically black institution in the rolling hills of West Virginia where the children of black coal miners were educated in the early 1900s.
But in reality, Bluefield State College is 90 percent white in 2013 — a place where black students are few.
Should Bluefield State College still be considered an historically black college and receive federal funding?
According to NPR, which reported the story last week, Antonio Bolden, a black student at Bluefield State College, came to the college to play basketball, but was totally surprised when he arrived on campus.
“My first thought was: There are a lot of white people,” Bolden told NPR. “Where all the black people at?”
It’s a good question. On the school’s website, the welcome video shows a mix of white and black students, but far more white students than any other HBCU in the nation.
The evolution of Bluefield State College dates back to the 19th century. In the 1920’s, the school was known as the Bluefield Colored Institute where football was dominant and the black middle class was educated, according to NPR.
But in 1954, the Supreme Court declared segregation illegal in Brown v. Board of Education, and black students began considering mainstream universities for higher education.
“We had an out-migration of students of color because of Brown v. Board of Ed,” said Jim Nelson, a spokesman for the school, told NPR. “At roughly the same time that we had an in-migration of largely Caucasian students wanting to use their G.I. Bill benefits. So that’s what, as much as anything, that’s what flipped the complexion of the school.”
So today, black students like Antonio Bolden are in the minority and Bluefield State College is still officially listed – and federally funded — as an HBCU.
The news of Bluefield State College’s majority white student enrollment comes as many black colleges across the country are struggling. In fact, Dr. George Cooper, Executive Director of the White House Initiative for HBCU’s, summed up the sense of urgency for HBCU’s in an interview with BAW.
“All 106 HBCU’s are in need,” Cooper said.
With some black colleges potentially facing extinction in the near future, it’s unconscionable that Republicans want to slash funding to institutions that account for 1.5 percent of associate degrees; 17 percent of bachelor degrees; 7 percent of master’s degrees and 8 percent of doctoral degrees for African Americans.
Last month, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan talked about the epic challenges facing the nation’s historically black colleges.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us,” Duncan told seven African American journalists who gathered for a breakfast briefing last month specifically about HBCU’s. “We have a Congress that is very, very tough. Every time I go to Congress, I hear cut, cut…and cut back, and that’s the challenge we’re facing.”
“We’re at a fork in the road, a real crossroads,” Duncan added. “The question for our country is whether we view education as an investment or do we view it as an expense.”
So here’s what the Obama administration says it’s doing, in part, to offer continued support for HBCU’s:
– A 40 percent increase in federal funds from the Department of Education to HBCU’s since 2007. The support includes increased Pell Grant funding to help an additional 200,000 black students and $850 million in additional mandatory funding for HBCU’s.
– The Obama administration’s funding for HBCU’s increased from $3 billion in 2007 to $4 billion in 2012.
– Ongoing technical support for HBCU’s
Meanwhile, Bluefield State College, as NPR put it, is the whitest HBCU in America and Antonio Bolden’s grammatically-challenged question about the West Virginia school remains an important subject for debate: “Where all the black people at?”