CHANDLER — Blacks struggled for an education in the past and made many contributions to the nation, yet maintaining educational opportunities continues to be a struggle, Texas College President Dr. Dwight Fennell said at a black history celebration Saturday.
Carver was a former slave, who became a scientist, educator and humanitarian developing hundreds of products from peanuts, sweet potatoes, pecans and soybeans. Drew pioneered the idea of establishing the blood bank system and the long-term preservation of blood plasma.
Nevertheless, Fennell said, “The history of education for African Americans prior to the mid-19th century was almost non-existent as it pertained to organized/formal educational systems, such as higher education institutions or colleges.”
The earliest institutions for blacks, included Lincoln University and Wilberforce University, both established in 1854 in northern states. The predominant number of institutions in the south was not established until after the Civil War, often by benevolent whites, freedman organizations or black churches, Fennell said.
Some individuals like Mary McLeod Bethune took it upon themselves to create educational opportunities, Fennell said, pointing out she started a school for blacks in Daytona Beach, Fla., now known as Bethune-Cookman University.
Today, there are 105 historically black colleges and universities nationwide out of 3,500 post-secondary institutions, Fennell said. Of the black colleges, 27 have doctoral programs, 52 offer graduate degree programs at the master’s level, 83 have the bachelor’s degree and 38 offer associate degrees.
From a spiritual context, Fennell said, he believes the founding of many of these black institutions parallels biblical scripture and supports the premise that they were established by God to meet the needs of communities where they were formed.
And these institutions had the responsibility to multiply abilities of students and help them create and understand the vision for their lives, Fennell said.
Texas College was founded in Tyler in 1894 as a coed institution for freed slaves by a group of ministers affiliated with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
The college today complies with its founding principles, Fennell said, in that it remains open to all individuals without discrimination on the grounds of national origin, race, religion or sex. It offers instruction in arts and sciences, humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and teacher education.
Today, much like in the early 19th century, Fennell said, “We find ourselves politically and socially continuing to discuss the significance of an education and how to make it affordable and accessible. … We are having to teach this generation the benefit and impact of an education and the potentials it can create. We have to demonstrate that an investment in yourself today means a brighter future for you tomorrow.”
Higher education institutions must find new and innovative ways to not only increase college access, but also to ensure students are successful once they enroll, Fennell said.
“Deliberate attention must be placed on substantially increasing the accessibility of educational opportunities for all students. This is particularly the case for students of color who are perpetually underrepresented in higher education enrollment, yet represent the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population,” Fennell said.
Another consideration, Fennell said, is that the cost of education continues to spiral upward as the job market climbs slowly. Also, funding agencies that were once supportive and facilitating with subsidizing educational costs are gradually lessening in the sharing of resources, he said.
Congress amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 that increased federal money for universities, scholarships and low-interest student loans, Fennell noted. “Now it is anticipated that there will be significant changes that affect funding awards to individuals as some programs may be cut,” he said.
Still, the basic credential needed for entering the job market is a college diploma, Fennell said. “It appears that it may someday be that only those who can afford an education will have access to the lucrative career opportunities,” he said.
Statistics indicate, he said, that only 19 percent of seventh graders will earn a college education, 40 percent of individuals who enter college are underprepared and more students take an average of six years to complete a four-year degree, creating greater expense.
“We must encourage those who have the ability to enhance their talents and we must assist others in developing talents and skills that will be useful in their futures,” Fennell said.
Since the 1800s many educated African-Americans have made contributions to the world, Fennell said.
He cited several examples, including Jan Ernst Matzeliger, inventor of the shoemaker machine; Granville T. Woods, inventor of the train-to-train communication system; Madam C.J. Walker, inventor of hair growth lotion and the first black millionaire; Garrett Morgan, inventor of the gas mask; Otis Boykin, inventor of electronic control devices for guided missiles; and Dr. Patricia Bath, who invented a method of eye surgery that helped blind people to see.