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HBCUs Divided over Free Community College Plan

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNNPA) – Black college educators and supporters are sharply split over whether President Obama’s proposal to offer a free two-year community college education to students making progress toward earning an associate or bachelor’s degree would hurt are harm Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), a nonprofit network of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs), including community colleges, said that for students who have a gap in funding or choose to go to a two-year institution and don’t have adequate funding, America’s College Promise would create another opportunity for them.

“We are trying to make sure that students that want to go and get a technical certification or some training to get their foot in the door, can do that,” said Baskerville. “We also want to incentivize and facilitate students who want to get a four-year degree doing that, especially low-income students for whom options are very, very limited.”

Baskerville said that the jury is still out on whether a student would opt to go to a two-year college for free instead of going to an HBCU.

“If they’re going to a two-year institution, they’re going to get a certificate or a two-year degree, something to get them market-ready or entrepreneurship-ready,” explained Baskerville. “If they’re going to a four-year HBCU they’re going because they appreciate the ethos of historic Black colleges that are built on the traditions of the African American community of family, faith, fellowship, service and social justice.”

However, Lester C. Newman, president of Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas, believes HBCUs will pay a price.

“They are going to suffer,” he said. “Not too many schools can operate with just the third and fourth level, especially four-year institutions that don’t have graduate programs. You don’t get the research dollars that can help sustain you. You rely on students being there from their freshman to their senior year. But if you are going to lose a great portion of those students for the first two years, you really will have to change your model, your business plan.”

Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an education advocacy group that represents about 300,000 students and 47 member colleges and universities, agrees.

“My fear is a real one and that this is going to significantly, negatively impact private HBCUs and I think it’s going to have some negative impact on public HBCUs,” he said. “Mama and Daddy are going to say, ‘If you can go to community college for free, that’s where you are going the first two years.’ So, what you have essentially done is cut in half the revenue for private HBCUs. Private HBCUs are going to feel this in a way you can’t even imagine.”

Taylor said he supports President Obama’s overall goal of providing free college assistance, but thinks it should be done in a manner that would be less harmful to HBCUs.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), which represents private HBCUs, has not issued a statement on the community college proposal.

As educators and HBCU advocates debate whether the program will have a disparate impact on Black schools, Toldson argued that enrollment at HBCUs has already taken a hit, because of state-level policy choices.

Toldson used Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., as an example. Toldson said that when he taught at the school in 2005, there were 10,000 students enrolled and over the last decade that number has dwindled to 6,000. Over the same period, Toldson said that community college attendance increased to about 9,000 students.

But Toldson said that the fall in enrollment at Southern University had more to do with changes in admission requirements that affected all state universities in Louisiana than direct competition from community colleges in the region. Toldson said that new guidelines barred Southern University from admitting students that scored less than 20 on their ACT exams.

“The average ACT score is 16 in Louisiana, so you could imagine how many Black students could not go to Southern because of that change,” said Toldson. “So, they had to go to a community college or whatever college would accept them.”

According to data collected by the ACT program, Black graduating high school seniors scored an average of 17 on the exam in 2014, compared to White students who scored 22.3 on average.

“By 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree,” White House officials said. “Forty percent of college students are enrolled at one of America’s more than 1,100 community colleges, which offer students affordable tuition, open admission policies, and convenient locations.”

Seventy-five percent of the funding for the proposal, called “America’s College Promise” will come from the federal government with participating states contributing the rest of the money needed to cover tuition costs. White House officials estimate that the program will cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years, if all states participate.

Nearly all of the HBCUs are in states where Republicans control the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Getting them – or the Republican majority in the House and Senate – to buy into President Obama’s vision will likely be an uphill battle.

As President Newman noted, spending on higher education is already being cut by most states.

“Of course, you support any opportunity where people can go to school for free,” he said. “The details are what I am concerned about. I don’t see them adding any money to higher education, just redirecting funds. This program will take away funds from private schools. Any proposal that does that is going to hurt us tremendously.”

Baskerville also noted that going to a two-year institution is not the most direct route for anyone who wants to get a four-year bachelor’s degree.

According to federal statistics, only 7.5 percent of Black students who pursue a two-year associate degree full-time finish within three years and about 40 percent of Black students who earn bachelor’s degrees finish in six years. Those rates plummet when a student is only able to attend part-time, often burdened by work or family obligations.

Ivory Toldson, the deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, said that community colleges currently educate more Black students than any other single sector, partly because of limited financial resources.

“Having a program that allows them to cut that financial barrier altogether to go into an institution that can help prepare them for an associate’s degree or to transfer to a four-year college, I think is a worthwhile program,” said Toldson.

The Journal for Blacks in Higher Education reported that, “Only 34 percent of Black students who took the ACT test were deemed ready for college-level English courses. This is less than half the rate for White students who took the ACT. Only 14 percent of Black ACT test takers were deemed college ready in mathematics compared to 52 percent of White ACT test takers.”

Whether community college students will be less likely to enroll in an HBCU after the first two years in another setting is being hotly debated. Regardless of the outcome, Black colleges are looking at a new reality.

Newman said that even before President Obama’s announcement, Jarvis was studying whether to award students associate degrees upon satisfactory completion of the first two years. Now that examination will be accelerated.

“We’re going to have to change our model,” he explained. “I don’t know if we have to play the associate degree game. We will have a need for greater articulation agreements with those community colleges that get those students.”

Other approaches will also be needed.

Baskerville said NAFEO is already working with The Links Inc., an international professional women’s group, to pair HBCUs with two-year community colleges in their service area in an effort to provide students with the experience of attending a four-year institution as they earn college credits at the local community college.

White House officials hope that taking the costs of tuition off the table for two-years will help to ease some of those burdens, possibly improving graduation rates in the process.

If the president’s plan results in fewer students attending HBCUs, that could have a ripple effect. For example, physicians, dentists and other professionals who attend HBCUs are much more likely to return to Black communities to practice than graduates of non-Black colleges.

Referring to the Obama community college proposal, Newman said, “It’s going to change how we operate in higher education. Whether that’s good or bad, we don’t know yet.”

GM Highlights Diversity at Detroit Auto Show

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By Freddie Allen
Senior Washington Correspondent

DETROIT (NNPA) – During the media week leading up to the 2015 North American International Auto Show, General Motors (GM) not only revealed new models and concept cars like other automakers, they also showcased the importance of diversity in the company’s ranks.

At “Design by Detroit,” an event hosted by GM that featured local artists, industry insiders and a custom-painted Stingray, three young, minority designers shared their experiences working for the embattled, century-old auto company.

Ven Lai, the lead creative designer for the Chevrolet Color and Trim Studio, said that after joining GM in 2007, she learned that the company appreciated passion for design and that when artists from different cultures and backgrounds lend their input to the process, the car, the customer and the brand benefit.

Crystal Windham, the first African American female design director at GM, currently leads the Chevrolet Passenger Car & Small Crossover Interiors department. Windham’s work was featured in the 2014 Chevrolet Impala and the all-new electric hybrid Chevrolet Volt.

“As designers, we’ve been empowered,” said Windham in her official press bio. “There is an exciting renaissance at GM and I am thrilled to be a part of it.”

Martin Davis, the design manager for the Exterior lighting and North American exterior Design, said that Windham has already left her mark on the interior design of Chevrolet passenger cars and that consumers will see even more of her influence on that segment very shortly as new products are rolled out.

Davis, who led the team that redesigned the exterior lighting for the new Cadillac Escalade said that working on the iconic sports utility vehicle was humbling and surreal.

“But you quickly get past that and embrace the challenge,” said Davis, who started his career with GM when he was 22 years old. “Working with new technologies like [light emitting diodes] enables us to do a number of things we haven’t done before.”

Davis continued: “There’s always that risk of being able to deliver on a design that you have sold to senior leadership and they are expecting your design to work.”

Ed Welburn, vice president of Global Design and General Motors, said that he still loves the look on a designer’s face when their concept is selected for a new project.

“I don’t care if they’re right out of school or if they’ve been with the company 40 years,” Welburn smiled. “They have that look on their face like they’re 8 years old.”

Welburn, who studied sculpture and design at Howard University and joined the automaker when President Richard Nixon was still in the White House, is the first executive to lead all of the company’s Global Design Centers in the United States, Germany, Korea, China, Australia, Brazil and India. The GM veteran said that he enjoyed knitting together a global team of studios, where everyone really knows and supports one another.

“It helps us understand our customers a whole lot better. Everyone brings some creative thought to the process that may be a bit unique in one way or another,” said Welburn. “I think we really benefit from that.”

Like cultural diversity overseas, Welburn said gender and ethnic diversity in the United States is extremely important to GM and considers his involvement in the evolving diversity mission at GM a part of his legacy. He admitted that there are not nearly as many Blacks and other minorities in the company as he would like.

Welburn met with the president of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Mich., and learned that the school was also having a tough time enrolling African American students.

Recruiting Blacks for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) careers isn’t just a GM problem, it’s an American one.

A 2014 study on STEM workers by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonpartisan think tank focused on racial equity, reported that Blacks account for less than 4 percent of workers in science and engineering jobs. Meanwhile, industries that are more dependent on STEM-related workers are expected to grow at nearly twice the rate as sectors that are less dependent on STEM workers.

That’s why the decorated auto exec is working with Detroit-area middle school and high school students, mostly African American, to identify the ones who want to attend CCS and offers them scholarships.

Anita Burke, the chief engineer of the GMC Canyon, a mid-sized truck, said that when she was younger, women didn’t go into design or engineering. That was considered men’s work. Burke thought about going into nursing or teaching, because that is what people expected her to do.

A chance conversation with a chemistry teacher who noticed her aptitude for math and science during her junior year in high school and encouragement from an older brother steered her away from nursing and into engineering.

“One of the things I’ve taken most from my career at General Motors is my best experiences have come when I stepped out of my comfort zone,” said Burke.

Burke took on two international assignments during her tenure at GM. She spent about three years in Toluca, Mexico and three and half years in Sao Paulo Brazil managing engineering groups and directing aftersales engineering.

“It was something I never would have imagined that I was going to do with my career coming out of college,” said Burke, a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology. “That was my first step out of my comfort zone and I learned from that, ‘Wow, the best things come from those [experiences].’”

Burke added: “If I didn’t step out of my comfort zone, I wouldn’t be chief engineer of this truck and it’s been my dream job.”

Burke said that it’s not only important that young women and minorities feel empowered to pursue STEM degrees, but that they also feel welcomed to pursue STEM careers. That’s the only way that the auto industry and many others will start viewing their presence in science and math fields as the norm.

“Many kids these days have zero understanding of what the auto industry is and depth of the things that you can do,” said Burke.

She explained, “You don’t have to be a CEO of a company, if that’s really not your passion, you just gotta love what you do.”

Welburn agreed.

“You can have a wonderful very fulfilling career in design,” said Welburn. “But the most important thing for me – I think it’s true for every young person – you need to go into a field that you’re passionate about whether its design or music or journalism. If you’re not passionate about it, don’t do it.”

Calls for a Stronger Pan-African Movement to Deal with Boko Haram

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By Saeed Shabazz
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been quoted as saying that the rebel organization Boko Haram killed 13,000 people in 2014. On Jan. 13, the United Nations called on his administration to bring the five-year rebellion to an end.

At press time, a draft resolution that would develop the legal framework is being circulated at U.N. headquarters that would authorize a military task force for 12 months. The group would consist of troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria and South Africa under African Union control. The U.N. secretary-general would be authorized under the resolution to establish a trust fund to sustain the force’s operations.

The talk in the corridors of the U.N. makes note of Nigeria’s seeming resistance to any such task force until recently, when Nigeria, a U.N. Security Council member, became involved in diplomatic discussions with the permanent five members of the council (United Kingdom, China, Russia, U.S. and France). A French defense minister said his nation would help coordinate efforts to launch the task force.

“I think that the current Nigerian government lacks the political will to deal with the larger crisis,” said author and activist Bill Fletcher Jr. in an email to the AmNews. “It is not simply putting down the clerical fascists that must be undertaken. It is about the need for a political engagement with the leaders and organizations of northern Nigeria at the same time that grievances in other parts of the country are addressed. There is a need for a national dialogue about the future of Nigeria.”

Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, a senior scholar with the Institute of Policy Studies and an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com.

Jonathan is reportedly facing a tough re-election battle in February.

“In my opinion, I don’t think Jonathan has the passion to resolve this crisis at this time,” Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, of the Department of African American Studies at Temple University, explained to the AmNews. “It is better for him to have a destabilized north eastern region, which works for him politically, added Asante. “Jonathan seems to be saying let the Muslims kill each other, not my problem.”

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, with nearly 180 million people divided into 250 ethnic groupings. Muslims make up 50 percent of the population while Christians make up 40 percent. Nigeria also boasts of having Africa’s largest economy, with a GDP of $502 billion. However, according to the CIA World Fact Book on the west African nation, unemployment is high at 23 percent. The Jonathan administration also faces an external debt of $15.73 billion.

There are calls for the African Union to address the situation with Boko Haram at their next summit, Jan. 21 to 31. Calls to the African Union’s office in Manhattan were not returned by press time.

“I attended a recent meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on peace and security on the continent,” said Asante. “I witnessed the presidents of Chad and Senegal tell the French delegation to mind their own business, and that Africans could and would handle their problems.

“The problem is the lack of strong Pan-African voices such as those of the past. Yes, I support the idea of an international military force being sent to Nigeria to deal with Boko Haram.”

Obama Proposes Plan for Paid Family Leave

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Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

President Obama has signed a directive which allows agencies to provide six weeks of advanced sick leave for federal employees to care for newborn children.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 12 percent of American workers receive paid family leave, and only 61 percent have paid sick leave.

“Men and women both need time to care for their families and should have access to workplace flexibilities that help them succeed at work and at home,” states the memorandum, which Obama signed Thursday. “Offering family leave and other workplace flexibilities to parents can help achieve the goals of recruiting and retaining talent, lowering costly worker turnover, increasing employee engagement, boosting employee morale, and ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce.

“Yet, the United States lags behind almost every other country in ensuring some form of paid parental leave to its federal workforce; we are the only developed country in the world without it,” continues the memorandum, which also offers the chance for women to recuperate after giving birth, even if they haven’t earned enough sick leave. It will also provide leave for spouses and partners to help out during the recuperation.

Employees who are bringing a foster child into their home will also be eligible for advanced annual leave.

GOP Lawmaker Apologizes for Obama-Hitler Comparison

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By Maria Adebola
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

A recent tweet by United States Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) incited another social media outrage when he compared President Obama to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. But just less than 24 hours after Weber made his thoughts public on Twitter, he issued an apology before deleting the tweet.

Weber’s original tweet was spurred by the president’s absence at an anti-terror march in Paris Jan. 11 following a recent terrorist attack.  “Even Adolph [sic] Hitler thought it more important than Obama to get to Paris. (For all the wrong reasons.) Obama couldn’t do it for right reasons,” Weber stated.

The post was one of many public criticisms lobbed at the White House for not sending an official of higher profile than Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, to join other world leaders for the anti-terrorist rally. “I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a somewhat apology.

Still, Weber acknowledged he might have gone too far–though he claimed the mention of Hitler was not meant to be a comparison to the president. Instead, he said, he wanted the name drop to represent the evil that still exists.

“It was not my intention to trivialize the Holocaust nor to compare the President to Adolf Hitler. The mention of Hitler was meant to represent the face of evil that still exists in the world today. I now realize that the use of Hitler invokes pain and emotional trauma for those affected by the atrocities of the Holocaust and victims of anti-Semitism and hate,” Weber said in a statement.

Weber has an infamous knack for publicly criticizing the president using his Twitter account. Sometime last year, during the president’s State of the Union Address, the Washington Post referenced a post in which the congressman referred to Obama as “Kommandment-In-Chef.” The word “chef” was initially a typo that was supposed to mean “chief.” The congressman was also criticized for misspelling Hitler’s first name in the latest tweet.

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BVN National News Wire