The Spectacular Progress of African Americans in Master’s Degree Awards

The performance of African Americans in winning master’s degrees has been remarkable. In the 2006-07 academic year blacks earned 62,574 master’s degrees at U.S. colleges and universities. This was 10.3 percent of all master’s degrees awarded that year. The number of blacks earning a master’s degree was up 6 percent from the previous year. Since 2000 the number of African Americans earning master’s degrees has increased by more than 74 percent.

Blacks have made solid progress over the past 20 years in increasing the number of master’s degrees earned. In 1990, 15,336 African Americans were awarded master’s degrees from U.S. universities. In the 2006-07 academic year, this figure had more than quadrupled. The percentage of all master’s degrees earned by blacks has increased from 5 percent in 1985 to 10.3 percent today.



Hampton University Dives Into Aquatic Education

A study by USA Swimming found that 60 percent of all African-American children cannot swim. Less than 1 percent of the organization’s 300,000 members are African Americans. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that black children are three times as likely to drown as white children.

The reason for the racial differences in swimming proficiency is primarily because many African Americans grow up in inner-city neighborhoods where they have no access to a swimming pool. Many older African Americans have bought into the stereotype that black people are not good swimmers, and they pass this down to their children and grandchildren.

Hampton University, the historically black educational institution in Virginia, is now looking to teach a new generation of African Americans that swimming is not only fun but it can be a valuable exercise routine. The university offers a minor certificate program in aquatics. Twelve students are currently enrolled in the aquatics program. In addition to instruction in swimming, students take courses in water safety, first aid, scuba diving, aquatics management, and the teaching of swimming. The goal of the program is to produce graduates who are not only capable swimmers and swimming instructors but to create role models so that black children will be encouraged to swim.


Bethune-Cookman University Begins New Degree Programs in Environmental Science

Bethune-Cookman University, the historically black educational institution in Daytona Beach, Florida, has begun new bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in environmental science.

Environmental science is a field in which traditionally there have been very few black scholars. Bethune-Cookman has hired Michael Reiter, a white professor who had taught at historically black Delaware State University, to head up its new program. Dr. Reiter holds a Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Virginia.


Black Woman Named Chancellor of the University of Kansas

Bernadette Gray-Little was named the 17th chancellor of the University of Kansas. She is the first woman and the first African American to be named to the position.

Since 2006 Dr. Gray-Little has served as executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Previously she was dean of Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Gray-Little is a graduate of Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Saint Louis University.

Dr. Gray-Little will begin her duties as chancellor of the University of Kansas on August 15.

The flagship campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence has about 21,000 undergraduate students. Four percent are black.


To Secure Their Financial Futures, Are Black Scholars Likely to Turn Down Faculty Positions at Universities With Small Endowments?

In recent years, black scholars have been in high demand as colleges and universities competed with each other to diversify their academic work force. But the nation’s prolonged recession may have changed the dynamics.

Let’s assume that a black scholar is fortunate enough to have offers of a tenured faculty position at both Princeton and New York University. In normal times, the black scholar might very well choose to join the faculty at New York University so that he or she would be in New York and be close to black cultural centers.

But these are not ordinary times. Consider the fact that Princeton, which has about 5,000 undergraduate students, has an endowment that is eight times as large as the endowment at New York University. At NYU there are more than four times as many undergraduate students as there are on the Princeton campus.

In these times the black scholar will have to think hard about accepting an offer from a college or university that has a frail endowment.

The scholar must consider the financial security of the educational institution for which he or she chooses to work. Today a scholar must consider if, in a reeling economy, he or she is likely to get anticipated raises in salary and whether the educational institution’s retirement fund will be financially sound in the years ahead. So far in 2009, at least 15 colleges and universities, including the highly regarded Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, have suspended payments into faculty retirement funds.


48.1%  Percentage of white, full-time college students in 2007 who also held a paying job.

36.0%  Percentage of black, full-time college students in 2007 who also held a paying job.

source: U.S. Census Bureau


Honors and Awards

• Bevlee Watford, associate dean of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech, received the 2009 Distinguished Alumni Award from the university’s department of mining and minerals engineering.

Dr. Whatford holds bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees from Virginia Tech.

• Ellington Graves, assistant professor of sociology at Virginia Tech, received the university's 2009 Edward S. Diggs Teaching Scholars Award. Graves also serves as assistant director of the Center for Africana Studies and Race and Social Policy Research.

Dr. Graves is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University. He holds a master’s degree from Virginia Tech, and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

• Doretha B. Foushee, associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at North Carolina A&T State University, received the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.

• Merlin R. Langley, associate professor and chair of the department of social work at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, received the 2009 Minority Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research award from the American Association for Cancer Research. Professor Langley was honored for his work in prostate cancer prevention.

• Teveia Rose Barnes, a partner of the law firm Foley & Lardner and a member of the Rice University board of trustees, was given the Meritorious Service Award from the Association of Rice Alumni.

• Genee Robinson, a graduating senior at Howard University who is majoring in fashion merchandising, received the Reginald F. Lewis Scholar Prize from the Reginald Lewis Foundation. The award, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize, goes to the Howard student who shows the most improvement in grade point average between the sophomore and senior years.

• Daniel Washington, associate dean for faculty affairs and associate professor in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at the University of Michigan, received the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award from the university’s Office of the Provost.



• North Carolina A&T State University, the historically black educational institution in Greensboro, received a $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The grant will be used to train students for environmentally friendly jobs.

• Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, received a $400,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to increase the number of students pursuing careers as teachers in predominantly minority schools.

• Norfolk State University, the historically black educational institution in Virginia, received a $200,000 grant from the Norfolk Foundation to fund marketing programs and faculty stipends for the university’s Honors College.

For breaking news and previews of upcoming articles


Blacks Are Very Scarce Among Udall Scholars

Congress acted unanimously in 1992 to establish the Morris K. Udall Foundation to honor the long-serving U.S. congressman from Arizona. Since 1996 the foundation has awarded more than 1,000 scholarships to undergraduate college students who are engaged in environmental or Native American studies. Each year up to 80 Udall Scholars are awarded $5,000 each.

This year 80 students from 66 different colleges and universities were named Udall Scholars. These students were selected from 515 nominations by 233 colleges.

While applicants for Udall Scholarships are not required to identify their race, the foundation told JBHE that to its knowledge there are no black Udall Scholars this year. Since 1996 when the scholarships were first awarded, only14 blacks have been known to have won awards.

Racism is not the culprit here. The fact of the matter is that few African-American students in the United States are pursuing degrees in environmental studies and thus there is a very small pool of black candidates who would qualify.

The foundation has undertaken new efforts to publicize the Udall Scholars program at black colleges and universities in the hope of attracting more African Americans to the program.


“That’s not my calling. Yeah, brother, you find me in a crack house before you find me in the White House. I’ll go into the crack house before I ever go that far inside.”

Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University, responding to a question on whether he would accept a post in the Obama administration, in Rolling Stone, May 28, 2009


Blacks Are Underrepresented in Academic Geography

Research published recently in the Journal of Geography examined racial diversity in the geography departments at 74 universities across the United States. The results showed blacks made up 3.6 percent of the total geography faculty at these schools. Blacks were 3.8 percent of the assistant professors, 5.1 percent of the associate professors, and 2.2 percent of the full professors of geography at these universities. At 45 of the 74 universities surveyed there were no black faculty members in the geography department.

The survey found that 3.2 percent of the students majoring in geography at these universities are black. Two thirds of the geography departments surveyed reported that they had made no special efforts to attract minority students. Less than half of the departments reported mentoring programs for minority students who had chosen to major in geography.


The Woman Who Broke the Color Barrier at the University of Maryland

Esther McCready, now 78 years old, is a volunteer worker at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. She helps out at the school’s museum.

One of the exhibits at the museum is a letter offering her admission to the school. Sixty years ago in 1949, McCready applied to the all-white nursing school. At the time the only black students at the University of Maryland were in the law school. The school took no action on her application until legal action by Thurgood Marshall and his team at the Legal Defense Fund won her admission in the courts.

In 1950 McCready became the first black student at the nursing school. She was not permitted to live in the regular nursing quarters. An office was converted into living quarters where she lived alone. On her first day at school, a white nurse told her, “If you don’t pray, you won’t get out of here because nobody here is for you.”

McCready faced open hostility from her white classmates, some of whom even tried to sabotage her work. Some teachers ignored her in the classroom. But she persisted and graduated from the nursing school in 1953 and became a public health nurse in Baltimore. She later worked at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. While in New York she earned a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music and performed in the chorus of Porgy and Bess at the Metropolitan Opera.

Soon after McCready won admission to the nursing school, the University of Maryland opened all of its professional schools and its undergraduate program to African Americans.


More Than 80 Percent of Full-Time Community College Students, a Group That Is Disproportionately Black, Have Unmet Financial Need

Nationwide, more than 900,000 African Americans are enrolled in two-year community colleges. They make up nearly 42 percent of all black enrollments in higher education. Blacks are 14 percent of total enrollments at two-year community colleges compared to 11 percent of the total enrollments at four-year colleges and universities.

According to a new report from the Institute for College Access and Success, community college students are the least likely to receive adequate financial aid. The report found that 80 percent of full-time community college students who need financial aid did not get enough aid to cover the costs of their higher education. In contrast, just over half of the students on need-based scholarships at private four-year colleges had unmet need. The amount of unmet aid for community college students averaged over $5,000, 20 percent more than was the case five years ago.


Hebrew Union College Graduates the First African-American Female Rabbi

Last weekend Alysa Stanton completed her studies at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati and was ordained at the city’s Plum Street Temple. Stanton says she is the only African-American woman rabbi in the world.

Stanton is a native of Cleveland but spent her teenage years in Denver as a Pentecostal Christian. A graduate of Colorado State University, she converted to Judaism at the age of 24. Now 45 years old, divorced, with a 14-year-old adopted daughter, Stanton will begin her ministry at Bayt Shalom in Greenville, North Carolina.


African-American Great-Grandmother Graduates From Mount Holyoke

Luora G. Webb, an 82-year-old great-grandmother from Springfield, Massachusetts, earned a degree in African and African-American history this spring from Mount Holyoke College. She is believed to be the oldest woman ever to be awarded a degree from the college.

Webb had previously earned an associate’s degree from Springfield Technical Community College. She then applied for and received a Francis Perkins Scholarship for nontraditional students from Mount Holyoke. She took three courses each semester. The only classes Webb missed were when she did not want to drive to the college during snowstorms.

Webb worked for the public school system in Springfield for 42 years as a secretary and an accountant.


In Memoriam

James C. Finney (1920-2009)

James C. Finney, a long-time professor at Cheyney University in Pennsylvania, died recently of congestive heart failure at a hospital in Philadelphia. He was 89 years old.

Professor Finney served as a professor of education at Cheyney University from 1961 to 1981. During his career he taught at Tennessee State University, Morgan State University, Delaware State University, and North Carolina Central University.

Professor Finney earned bachelor’s degrees at both Coppin State University and Morgan State University in Baltimore. He held a master’s degree in education sociology from Howard University and an educational doctorate from Columbia University.


Appointments, Promotions, and Resignations

• Marc Lamont Hill was appointed associate professor of English education and anthropology at Teachers College at Columbia University. He was an assistant professor of urban education and American studies at Temple University.

• Clovis E. Semmes was named director of the black studies program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. For the past 20 years he has been a professor of African-American studies at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

Dr. Semmes holds a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

• Neil Henry was named dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served as dean on an interim basis since 2007. He has been a faculty member at Berkeley since 1993.

Dean Henry is a graduate of Princeton University. He holds a master’s degree from Columbia University.

• Daniel T. Blue Jr. was named chair of the board of trustees of Duke University. He is the first African American to serve in the position. The managing partner of a Raleigh law firm, he is a long-serving member of the North Carolina state legislature.

Blue is a graduate of North Carolina Central University and Duke Law School.

• T. Avery Walton was appointed managing director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission at the University of Arkansas. He has had a 23-year career with the Procter & Gamble company.

Walton holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Arkansas.

• Kami Chavis Simmons was promoted from assistant to associate professor at the Wake Forest School of Law. She has been on the law school faculty since 2006.

Simmons is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Harvard Law School.



Copyright © 2009. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. All rights reserved.