September 10th at Washington, DC’s RFK stadium the inaugural Nation’s Football Classic hosted Howard University vs. Morehouse College. Check out our videos and pictures from the weekend hanging with Alumni from both (or all 3 Spelman included) schools. A good time was had by all.
On Saturday, May 1, Atlanta’s Morehouse College will play host to what is likely to be the fiercest music-themed basketball competition the school has ever seen.
Many colleges and universities place a premium on enrolling a racially diverse student body. But at most of these schools, their graduates might not be as varied as the students who entered as freshmen. Only about 40 percent of underrepresented minority students—blacks, Latinos, and American Indians—graduate from college within six years; the same statistic for nonminorities is 60 percent.
Experts say that much of the disparity in graduation rates can be attributed to the different economic backgrounds students bring when they enter college, a criterion in which minorities tend to be disadvantaged. This relationship between economic background and graduation rates is particularly significant for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which generally enroll more students with limited financial resources. The six-year graduation rates at even the top three black colleges as ranked by U.S. News are 78 percent (Spelman College), 69 percent (Howard University), and 61 percent (Morehouse College), according to 2007 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. For comparison, the graduation rate for U.S. News’s top three National Universities are 98 percent (Harvard), 96 percent (Princeton), and 97 percent (Yale). At many HBCUs, the graduation rate hovers in the range of 30 to 40 percent. But many HBCUs are striving to ensure that more students of color earn a degree. “There are many systemic institutional programs and solutions that are beginning to address this,” says Alvin Thornton, interim provost and chief academic officer at Howard University in the District of Columbia.
Four years ago, a representative of an established business plan competition, the ORNL Global Venture Challenge, phoned Tiffany Bussey, founding director of the Morehouse College Entrepreneurship Center. The representative was looking for minority students with business plans.
As a leader among historically black colleges and universities — and famously the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr. — Morehouse could help, Ms. Bussey said. But the phone call confirmed something she’d already suspected: minority students were not taking full advantage of undergraduate business plan competitions and the opportunities they present for mentorship, networking and financial reward.
She didn’t have the numbers, and it wasn’t clear that any agency, school or research firm had compiled them, but Ms. Bussey, co-founder of the Rogers Bussey management consultancy, believed that African-American and Hispanic students were not competing in established competitions in numbers that reflected the community’s growing interest in entrepreneurship. Recent studies by the Kauffman Foundation, for example, have found that American “blacks are about 50 percent more likely to engage in start-up activities than whites.”
Nonetheless, Ms. Bussey’s efforts to encourage submissions to the Global Venture Challenge and other competitions produced no takers. This was especially surprising given that Morehouse offered courses with internal competitions for grades or class credit; she knew her students had the skills. So why didn’t they want to compete? “I’d ask the question in classes,” she said. “But everyone looked back blank.”
The dean of business and economics at Morehouse, John Williams, theorized that minority students focused on résumé-building, not start-ups, because they hear more frequent success stories about minority “intrapreneurs,” activists and artists. “Entrepreneurs like Robert Johnson, the founder of BET, are less common,” he said, “You don’t see many traditional venture capitalists backing black and female entrepreneurs, yet, either.”
When Ms. Bussey pressed her students about their reluctance to compete, she learned that many had start-up ideas. Some students said they didn’t have the time or money to prepare for and travel to competitions. Others didn’t think they would be able to raise investment money and feared that entrepreneurship lacked financial security.
Next, Ms. Bussey started calling colleges with high-paying competitions to inquire how she could get African-American students from Morehouse involved. When many of the schools didn’t call back, she said, she decided to take the matter into her own hands. By the 2007-8 school year, she was organizing a Morehouse business plan competition.
She focused recruiting efforts within historically black colleges, Hispanic institutions, state and community colleges — though the competition was open to undergraduates from any accredited American school. She enlisted a consultant, Guy Madison, to solicit sponsorships.
“The level of detail and soundness in their plans pleasantly surprised me,” Ms. Bussey said.
The five finalist pitches were for: UltiNets, an I.T. and broadband services firm already in operation; Not Alone, a video production business that would work with religious groups to create socially positive, nonfiction films; Jhenés, a plus-sized answer to Victoria’s Secret; Yes You Can, a niche online community for social entrepreneurs; and Apex Plastics, a company with technology that helps plastics manufacturers speed production times while reducing environmental impact.
Now approaching its second year semi-finals, the Morehouse competition is accepting applications again. It has already obtained 48. It has also upped the total amount of cash it will give away to three winning teams — one energy, one clean tech, and one consumables or traditional business — to $20,000.
As a 13-year-old, Lithonia resident Stephen Stafford II can usually be found sitting in front of the television playing video games or playing his drum set. But Stafford is no typical 13-year old – he’s a college student. The triple-major child prodigy is becoming a sensation at Morehouse College.
“I’ve never taught a student as young as Stephen, and it’s been amazing,” said computer science professor Sonya Dennis. “He’s motivating other students to do better and makes them want to step up their game.”
“When I saw how much knowledge Stephen has at such a young age, I wondered what I had been doing with my life,” laughed third-year student, Eric Crawford. A psychology major and computer science minor, Crawford wanted to step up his game so much that he got Stephen to tutor him. “Even though I’m older, Stephen is like a mentor and my elder in computer science,” said Crawford.
Even at age 11 when Stafford started at Morehouse, he got the highest score in his pre-calculus class. “He breezes through whatever I throw at him. If it’s an hour lab, he can do it in 20 or 30 minutes,” said Dennis.
Stafford said he isn’t nervous about studying with students much older than himself. “I just do what I always did. I show up, I do the work, and I go home,” he said.
Stafford’s mother, Michelle Brown-Stafford, home-schooled both her children (Stephen has an older sister also in college) and believes that parental involvement is essential for students to excel. But when she realized her son was starting to teach her instead of being taught, she knew he needed to be in a college environment.
“It was surreal because on one hand he’s talking about technical things I didn’t even understand, and on the other hand he was asking me to come watch Sponge Bob with him. So it was bittersweet to let him go.”
Brown-Stafford wondered if there were other parents who shared her experiences with a gifted child, so she helped found a support group: www.gifted-spirit.com.
And the Morehouse family has become a support group for Stafford, personifying the African proverb about it taking a village to raise a child. Stafford is too young to stay on campus, so his mother picks him up and drops him off each day. The students protect him and make a point not to curse or discuss certain mature issues around him, according to his mother and Stafford. Even the staff of Jazzman’s Café, where Stafford tutors Crawford, helps nurture Stephen into becoming a “Morehouse Renaissance Man”–well-spoken, well-dressed, well-read, well-traveled, and well-balanced.