BRANDON DAVIS, left, who is part of the Sylvester Pace HBCU College Tour, speaks with Kamya Bates about different HBCUs. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
Shoulder to shoulder, cheek to jowl, and wall to wall—that was the scene as a sea of high school seniors from Pittsburgh Public Schools, Penn Hills, Sto-Rox and a number of charter schools including Imani Christian Academy, Propel and City Charter High School flooded the Foerster Center at the Community College of Allegheny County for its Oct. 10 HBCU Recruitment and Transfer Fair.
Vince Elliott, an Alabama State graduate and president of the Western Pennsylvania Council of HBCU Alumni, has organized these fairs for seven years, the last three in conjunction with CCAC. He told the New Pittsburgh Courier it was the best attended fair yet—but then, it was supposed to be.
“If you don’t improve every year, then it’s not a success—and we’re just getting started,” he said. “And with that report that just came out saying that Pittsburgh is the worst place for African Americans in the country, my message is simple—go where you’re wanted. I’m like Moses: ‘Let my people go.’”
Alumni Council Vice President and CCAC social work professor Christopher Robinson said another inducement is cost. The U.S. Department of Education has increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and many now waive out-of-state fees, making them more affordable than Pennsylvania state-affiliated universities.
“The tuition at my alma mater, Jackson State, is $18,000 per year—that’s all inclusive; housing, meals, and that’s before any grants or loans students may qualify for,” he said. “A lot of these kids—not only don’t they know about HBCUs, they’ve never been on a college campus before. So, having them all here gives them that experience and exposure. They get to see that HBCUs are an affordable and culturally relevant alternative.”
Another way to make it even more affordable, Robinson said, is to attend CCAC for two years, then transfer to an HBCU.
“Our president, Dr. Quintin Bullock, is a huge supporter of this event—he went to Prairie View,” Robinson said. “We’re happy to have a president who sees this as a valuable experience. And he and the leadership are working on articulation agreements with more of the HBCUs so students can transfer all their credits. I know one student who did that and he saved more money than I did—and I graduated in 2006.”
Many of the recruiters said the fair was among the best they’d attended. Morehouse recruiter Antonio Williams said despite not being authorized to grant scholarships on the spot, it was one of his most successful trips.
“I’ve had a lot of traffic,” Williams said. “But we have a lot of ‘name’ alumni like Oprah, Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee who are big financial supporters, and Robert Smith just gave us $34 million to pay off all the debt for 2019 graduates, plus it’s Atlanta—it pretty much sells itself.”
Alabama A&M recruiter Darius Blakney said he had a great day, too. And though all scholarships—including the full-ride Presidential and Merit scholarships—are decided by committee based on GPA and ACT/SAT scores, they also offer hardship scholarships as well as those for veterans and foster parents.
But the recruiter who had students four deep at her desk was Angela Diggs from Virginia State University. She enrolled more than 50 students during the morning session alone. As director of enrollment for the university, Diggs also has the authority to grant scholarships—and she did.
“One student was eligible for our Presidential scholarship; $10,000, so that cuts the tuition in half,” she said. “We have the best business school. We graduate more Black computer science grads than any university in the country, and last year we were named HBCU of the Year. This trip has been fun. It’s very rewarding to be able to provide an opportunity for our students to achieve.”
Henry Robinson, a high school senior at Perry Traditional Academy, said he talked to Diggs and most of the other recruiters as well.
“I want to be a doctor or a biology teacher,” Robinson said. “I’m just looking at options and getting information on different colleges.”
Avery Wise, a senior at Westinghouse from Wilkinsburg, said he plans to be an athletic trainer, so he’s looking at Pitt and Slippery Rock, but also Spelman, Morehouse and Virginia State.
“Virginia State campus life looks good, and they seem very interested in everybody,” he said. “It feels more like family.”
Ali Abdullahi, another high school senior at Perry, plans to pursue a career in computer science and game design. So he, too, was very interested in Virginia State.
But Rayquan Young, from Allderdice High School, said he’s more into “petroleum engineering and marketing in gas and oil. So I’m looking at Morehouse and Hampton University, but also Alabama State and Fisk.”
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