Why Black Colleges Might Be the Best Bargains

The recession has hit some campuses hard but also is opening opportunities for students of all races.

Students gather outside the student union at Winston-Salem State University.
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But all of this may create an unprecedented opportunity for the HBCUs that have proved they can turn disadvantaged kids into stars at a comparatively low cost. Morehouse, for example, is attracting all kinds of applicants interested in a small private college education with a sticker price about $15,000 lower than those of elite majority-white schools in the Northeast. Last year's valedictorian was white, for example. And for his medical school classes, Paul says, "I just want the brightest people. I don't care if they are grey, yellow ..."

Likewise, ninth-ranked Xavier University of Louisiana expects a strong freshman class in the fall of 2009, in part because Xavier offers science and technology majors great preparation for grad school at a reasonable cost. Xavier's 77 percentacceptance rate of graduates by medical schools is almost twice the national average and means that Xavier sends more African-Americans to medical school than any other college in the nation. It manages to do this while charging a total cost of attendance—including tuition, fees, room, board, books, transportation, etc.—of less than $25,000. And since more than half of all Xavier students receive grants averaging more than $5,000, the net cost for most students is less than $20,000 a year.

At the other end of the financial spectrum, Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis is reporting record applications so far this year. One key reason, school officials believe, is that at less than $5,000 a year, the open-enrollment HBCU has the lowest tuition in Missouri.

Milton Brown, now a professor of experimental therapeutics at Georgetown University, says he knows firsthand how HBCUs like his alma mater, Oakwood University in Alabama, "take students other schools will not accept, and from that pool can rise very talented students who were late bloomers or came from single-parent homes or backgrounds of poverty."

HBCUs also forge among their alumni a unique lifelong bond, he adds. Today, more than two decades after he got his bachelor's from Oakwood, Brown is still in weekly or monthly contact with 40 or 50 college pals. "All of them are professionals. They are lawyers, doctors, dentists," he says.

Brown, for one, hopes that the recession doesn't prevent today's students from getting a chance like his. Oakwood "gave me an opportunity to excel that I might not have had," Brown says." I learned I could compete" and win against students from more advantaged backgrounds, he says, adding: "I learned that there was a network of people who really cared about me."