Weighing Grades on the HBCU – PWI Scales


I didn’t grow up knowing much about Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Coming from an immigrant background, my parents didn’t really care where I went to college as long as I went and excelled. When I did come around to learning about HBCUs and their history I was proud to know that such institutions existed, and was intrigued as to how each campus/school seemed to have it’s own unique culture while still remaining complementary to the system at large.

Learning about HBCUs led me to realize that there seemed to be this great point of contention between those who support them over PWIs and vice versa. With HBCUs increasingly experiencing issues with fundraising (especially contribution retention from alumni) in this weakened economy, the argument has been made that more Blacks should steer clear of PWIs to support these schools and build a greater community of Black education. Those on the other side of the fence have argued that with lack of funding, HBCUs are unable to provide their students similar financial packages like their PWI counterparts. They also argue that given our society is a pluralistic one, it is best that Black student attend more diverse institutions to get an honest taste of what’s in store for them in the workplace.

As adults we expect to be able to disagree while maintaining respect for each other’s opinions and decisions. Not too long ago, I came across a tweet that said “A 4.0 at a HBCU is not equivalent to a 4.0 at a rigorous PWI. No shade being thrown but that is the truth!” Well…that was definitely shade. Inaccurate shade, but shade nonetheless. Since we do not have all day, I will not point out the 101 ways in which this tweet was not only accurate but disrespectful to those who have attended and succeeded at HBCUs. But what I will focus on is the lack of nuance in said tweet.

First of all, what does the owner of this statement mean by “rigorous” PWI? I think anyone with a degree will tell you college is nothing but rigorous. The creation of your own schedules, deciding on your major, exams, papers, lectures, and never mind the greatness that is tuition and books. So, every 2-4 year institution can be labeled as rigorous, especially determining what you choose to specialize in. Secondly, has the owner of this thought researched what goes into receiving a 4.0 at any institution of higher learning. A 4.0 means the student basically went above and beyond their coursework to succeed. Their papers and projects were excellent, they attended class regularly and participated, and maybe even visited their professor during office hours. Anyone who receives a 4.0 regardless of their school deserves nothing but praise. With the average U.S. GPA sitting at 3.11, I don’t think a 4.0 is anything to laugh at.

Lastly, the greatest issue I take with this tweet is that it goes with the larger theme that Black-owned/predominantly Black institutions are inferior to white ones. What about a 4.0 at a Black institution makes it less than a PWI? HBCUs have birthed some of the most important figures in history, just like PWIs have. HBCUs stand on a ground of providing a diverse education while maintaining strict curriculums, just as PWIs do. There is nothing that a PWI can offer in terms of coursework that a HBCU can’t. I hope the author of this despicable tweet can hope to tweet with nuance, and basic knowledge of these different institutions, next time she partakes in this discussion.
Valerie Charles is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She blogs at GirlAboutBk.wordpress.com. You can follow her on twitter @Vivaciously_Val.


  1. SADLY SADLY SADLY this is true.

    my father used to be a Dean of curriculum at a certain school. he made sure the the credits earned at that school easily transferred to larger schools.

    i started my career at his school then when it was time for me to transfer my engineering credits to a 4 year school i looked at temple and drexel.

    because of his job he actually worked for both.

    he told me immediately NO to Temple. the curriculum is not the same and even DUMBED DOWN so that they can say a higher ratio of non white students have graduated college… **shocker**

    then he showed me side by side curriculum for the same field of study at both schools, VAST DIFFERENCE.

    at DREXEL i could get a Bachelors in Engineering, at Temple the “black college” i could get a Bachelors in Engineering “Technology”

    my father told me i didn’t want that on my resume (he has a MA in Mechanical Engineering himself)…..safe to say i didn’t go to Temple.

    P.S. i am African american, my father (step father) is 100% white of English and German Descent.

    hope i was helpful

  2. I attended an HBCU and I felt it was more rigorous than my friends who attended ‘regular’ white schools. Of course it all boils down to the school and professor…

    I had some old school ‘Papa Pope’ types who experienced segregation etc, and were extra hard.

  3. I was just talking about this the other day. When I was going to school a lot of the top kids went to black schools. It was when a different world was on. We saw not only a great education. But unity and having fun. Now the black colleges are losing top talent to PWI. We will see that lost in the future. I I with Obama being president, the kids want what he has. An Uber elite education.

  4. Im upset my original post was never put up,maybe because it spoke a truth people don’t want to hear. So I guess if this doesn’t go up either there’s no reason for me to visit this blog anymore.

  5. so again…

    my father was a dean of curriculum at a certain 2 year college. his job was to make sure all credits earned at his school transferred to major 4 year schools seamlessly.

    he also worked for Drexel and Temple making sure the curriculum matched.

    after i got my 2 year engineering degree at his school i wanted to transfer to temple.

    he told me NO

    he said the curriculum is NOT THE SAME. he said the curriculum there is dumbed down so they can say that a higher percent of non white students were graduating college.

    he showed me a side by side curriculum from both schools and the differences were MAJOR, even when it came down to the math required, everything was pretty much basic skills at the HBC versus PWI.

    then if i went to temple i could only get a degree in Engineering Technology where as at Drexel a Degree in CIVIL ENGINEERING.

    my father who has his masters in mechanical engineering told me Engineering Technology would not be respected on my resume by major companies, as soon as they see the word Technology they would know i only studied the basics.

    i did not go to temple to say the least, and when i got my current job at a nuclear power engineering company they too said they would never hire someone with a technology degree.

    this information needs to be KNOWN to prospective students or what future is there for them?

    please compare curriculum and leave race out of education.

    get your education based on being hired by companies that would accept the level of work done.

    don’t be left in the dark with a degree you can use.

  6. Hi Liverpool 🙂
    Your comment was accidentally identified as spam. I always check the folder for real comments and saw yours and immediately added it to the approved list and now it is live.

  7. @sista

    I thank you so much, it has happened before on other sites, either agree or have your comments blocked.

    In this case it would be sad because like I said, certain companies will not higher based on curriculum of certain schools.

    I thank you again

  8. Well I have heard these things before but to me it discourages people more to know this as being black puts you at the back anyway. So now you decide to get an education and you have a black school that is willing to take you as opposed to a white school who wants no parts of you so you go there and get an education. Then to be told that in addition to no one wanting you because you are black and then you have a degree from a black institution puts you back even further, wow and we wonder why we have such a lazy and shiftless generation of young people. Instead of encouraging people to get an education especially if you are not accepted at a white school we point out what is common knowledge that no matter if you go to a white school and you are black you are still not wanted. Well i graduated from a black historical college in Miami Florida and actually graduated with high honors and maintained my honor throughout on the deans list. I got more than one job that i loved so who cares if someone doesn’t want your degree that came from a black school someone else does and I refuse to discourage someone from getting an education at a black school because it doesn’t look as good. what else is new. some things need to be left unsaid because we already know we are not the most welcome people anywhere not because of who we are but because of the color of our skin. so who is the most ignorant. anyway this just made me real angry.

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