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Historically Black Colleges and Universities
and the Impact of Section 21

Dr. Frank L. Giles, CRC, CCM
Associate Professor and Coordinator
Rehabilitation Training Program, Jackson State University


This paper gives a brief history of the origin of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) particularly as this concerns sources of financial support which have traditionally been extended to these institutions. The author points out that Section 21 of the 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act gives HBCUs an opportunity to initiate or enhance academic programs in rehabilitation. In addition, he maintains that these institutions require technical assistance in terms of both proposal and curriculum development. He calls for programmatic initiatives by the Rehabilitation Services Administration which will ensure the development and success of new rehabilitation training programs.


Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are like Duracell batteries, "they take a licking, but keep right on ticking." HBCUs "keep right on ticking" because of the dedicated work of people interested in their survival and vitality. Section 21 of the 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act provides an excellent opportunity for the development of academic training programs in vocational rehabilitation in predominately minority institutions of higher education. This paper is intended to give a brief history of the past financial support for HBCUs, critical issues facing many publicly supported HBCUs, and the impact of Section 21 on the development of rehabilitation pre-service training programs.

Brief History of Funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

The beginning of most Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) can be traced to the need to provide a basic primary education for freed Negroes. According to Bowman (1992), toward the end of the Civil War and beginning of World War I a number of educational foundations such as the Peabody Education Fund, General Education Board, Anna T. Jeanes Fund, and Caroline Phelps-Stokes Fund extended needed philanthropic support for Negro education in the South.

The roots of most HBCUs can be readily traced to institutions which initially began as training grounds for teachers' education preparation, industrial and agricultural vocations, or theological seminaries. Presently, there are 117 HBCUs providing post-secondary education. Of this total, 100 of these institutions grant four year degrees (Bowman, 1992). The African American church and other religious denominations should be praised for their enduring support. Forty-four HBCUs are associated with religious based organizations such as the African Methodist Episcopal, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, Presbyterian, U.S., Roman Catholic, United Church of Christ, and United Methodist churches (Bowman 1992). Founded by Dr. Frederick D. Pattern, the third president of Tuskegee University, the United Negro College Fund has been another major lifeline to HBCU's over the years.

It should be understood that while HBCUs afford their students a sound education and pathway to the American middle-class, many of these institutions struggle financially to stay afloat. The case in point can be illustrated in a recent profile of Shaw University in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Nicklin, 1994). Shaw is a small historically African American university affiliated with the Baptist Church and located in Raleigh, North Carolina with a current enrollment of about 2500 students.

In 1986, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Shaw was on the verge of closing with a debt of $5 million, with buildings in disrepair, dwindling enrollment, and suffering from an "image problem." However, over the past five years under the leadership of a new president, the University has operated on a balanced budget and began to thrive. Shaw's revival can be traced to good management and support from alumni, foundations, and corporations.

The challenges on the horizon facing publicly supported predominately African American institutions of higher learning need special attention. As it is known in Mississippi, the recent 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the "Ayers Case" poses an uncertain dilemma for many state funded HBCUs. In 1975, Jake Ayers Sr. filed a suit on behalf of his son and twenty-one other African American students. He charged that the State of Mississippi had done little to move beyond a "separate-but- equal" university system that was in the past enforced by state law. The impetus for this change was that the funding level for the three state-funded historically Black universities, Jackson State University (JSU), Alcorn State University (ASU), and Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) was inadequate. In brief, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the plaintiffs (Ayers) finding that Mississippi had not erased remnants of segregation in the state's higher education system. The case was remanded to a lower court for resolution. However, the majority opinion did not specifically say the state's three historically Black universities should receive extra funding to make up for funding practices of the past. Some have suggested that merging ASU with a majority institution and closure of MVSU may be a possible, but an unwelcome solution to the case.

The dilemma facing publicly supported HBCUs mentioned earlier is that the effect of Ayers may have a far reaching impact beyond Mississippi to other states with similar structured university systems. Professor Kenneth Tollet of Howard University, along with support from the American Association of Howard University Professors, plans to undertake a year-long study to determine the likely implications of the 1992 Supreme Court decision with the goal of helping to sustain HBCUs (Hawkins, 1994b). While settlement talks are presently occurring between both parties in Mississippi (Hawkins, 1994a) (see Black Issues in Higher Education, February 10, 1994 for details), some suggest that it may be years before the case is finally resolved.

The importance of the above presentation regarding the history of funding for HBCUs is that rehabilitation should keep in mind the past experiences of these institutions and how supporting unfamiliar and new programs may be perceived. As in any college or university, HBCUs are interested in new programs and the enhancement of existing programs if such programs are extended in a manner that promotes and increases the likelihood of success.

Impact of Section 21

Section 21 of the 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act was clearly promulgated because of Congressional findings which recognize that the demographic profile of the United States is indeed changing with regard to increases in the number of minority citizens. Congress also found that ethnic and racial minorities tend to have disabling conditions at a disproportionately high rate. Those same findings observed that patterns of inequitable treatment of minorities have been well documented in all major service areas in the vocational rehabilitation process (U.S. States Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration, 1993).

Several studies have clearly illuminated the inequitable treatment which minorities receive in vocational rehabilitation since Atkins and Wright's (1980) review of services received by Blacks (Danek & Lawrence, 1982; Giles, 1993; Herbert and Martinez, in press; Rivera, 1974). Section 21 provides several remedies to deal with the above findings which include the following: 1) recruitment efforts within vocational rehabilitation at the level of pre-service training, continuing education, and in-service training must focus on bringing larger numbers of minorities into the profession, 2) financial assistance to prepare students for vocational rehabilitation and related service careers in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic- serving institutions of higher education and other institutions of higher education whose minority enrollment is at least 50%, and 3) the Commissioner (i.e., Rehabilitation Services Administration [RSA]) shall develop a plan to provide outreach services and other related activities in order to enhance the capacity and increase the participation of minority institutions of higher learning (as described in item 2) in competition for grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements.

In its present structure, RSA has designated the Regional Rehabilitation Continuing Education Programs (RRCEPs) as the avenue for implementation of Section 21. Each of the ten RRCEPs have been funded to perform outreach services to minority institutions of higher learning. Most RRCEPs have designated or hired a staff member to serve in the outreach effort. In some cases, cultural sensitivity training has also been recommended for state vocational rehabilitation agency employees.

RSA has also established a National Rehabilitation Cultural Diversity Initiative (RCDI) Committee composed of individuals from around the country to provide input into policies established by RSA related to the implementation of Section 21. Dr. Bobbie Atkins, of the San Diego State University, RRCEP IX has been designated as the National Coordinator of the RCDI project. While this presentation will not focus on Section 21 as it relates to the National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), the legislation does require applicants for NIDRR funded grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements to demonstrate how they will address, in whole or in part, the needs of individuals with disabilities from minority backgrounds.

This new legislation provides an opportunity for many HBCUs and other predominately minority institutions to initiate or enhance their academic programs in rehabilitation. However, the dilemma facing many of these institutions is that they often have little knowledge about academic curricula in these areas, and more often than not have limited technical resources to develop fundable proposals. Therefore, outreach efforts should not only provide basic resource information about vocational rehabilitation programs found in post-secondary educational settings, but it would seem necessary to extend technical assistance to these institutions designed to assist in both proposal and curriculum development. Strong consideration should also be given to providing funding to assist in hiring program coordinators to establish these new rehabilitation programs for a limited period during the initial years of program development.

The effect of RSA funding for long-term training in a master's level rehabilitation counseling can be illustrated in the case of Jackson State University (JSU), a HBCU in Mississippi. Since the Fall semester of 1989 to present, JSU has been fortunate to have received some type of training funds from RSA. In the Spring semester of 1990, 18 students were enrolled in the JSU Rehabilitation Counseling Program compared to 31 students in the Spring semester of 1994. This represents a sharp increase of 41 percent in enrollment. Consequently, funding increases enrollment which increases graduation rates, and availability of program graduates for positions in state/federal vocational rehabilitation agencies.

The Council on Rehabilitation Education, Inc., the accrediting body for rehabilitation counseling programs, recognizes 81 master's level programs. Of this total, five HBCUs house accredited rehabilitation counseling programs and these include Coppin State College (CSC) (Maryland), Fort Valley State College (FVSC) (Georgia), Jackson State University (JSU) (Mississippi), Southern University (SU) Louisiana), and South Carolina State University (Staff, Council on Rehabilitation Education, 1993). The author is aware of two undergraduate rehabilitation services programs located within HBCUs at Talladega College (Alabama), and the University of Maryland - Eastern Shore.

Available data pertaining to enrolled undergraduates receiving financial assistance indicate that 80 percent of CSC, 82 percent of SU, and 90 percent of JSU students obtain some type of assistance (U.S. News & World Report, 1993). The availability of funding in these and similar institutions appears to be critical to provide access to graduate education.


It is clear that rehabilitation training programs would be welcomed and supported in HBCUs and other predominately minority institutions of higher education providing adequate support is extended in the development of such programs. RSA and the RRCEPs should keep in mind the past experiences and financial dilemmas facing these institutions as they begin dialogue with college and university administrators.

The ever increasing population of minority citizens and disproportionately high rates of disability found in the minority community cannot be ignored and must be addressed in programmatic initiatives by RSA. It is the responsibility of all rehabilitation professionals to ensure that these new rehabilitation training programs are indeed successful in providing competent rehabilitation practitioners.


Atkins, B. J. & Wright, G. N. (1980). Vocational rehabilitation of Blacks. Journal of Rehabilitation, 46, 40, 42-46.

Bowman, J. W. (1992). America's Black Colleges. South Pasadena, CA: Sandcastle Publishing.

Danek, M. M. & Lawrence, R. E. (1982). Client-counselor racial similarity and rehabilitation outcomes. Journal of Rehabilitation, 48 (3), 54-58.

Giles, F. L. (1993). Minorities with disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation. In T. Wright & Paul Leung (Eds.) Meeting the Unique Needs of Minorities with Disabilities: A report to the President and the Congress. (April 26, 1993). Washington, DC: National Council on Disability.

Hawkins, B. D. (1994a). Trial date in Florida case halted parties attempt settlement. Black Issues in Higher Education, 10 (25), 18-19.

Hawkins, B. D. (1994b). AAUP undertakes yearlong study of Black institutions. Black Issues in Higher Education, 10 (26), 19-30.

Herbert, J. T. & Martinez, M. Y. (in press). Client ethnicity blank vocational rehabilitation case service outcome. Journal of Job Placement.

Nicklin, J. L. (1994, March 2). Shaw University regains its momentum. The Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. A31, A33.

Rivera, O. A. (1974). Vocational rehabilitation of disabled Hispanics (Doctoral dissertation, University of Utah). Dissertation Abstracts International, 35(4-A, 2059-2060A.)

Staff, (1993, November). Council on Rehabilitation education, Inc. Accredited programs. Core News, pp. 6-14.

U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration. (1993). Training on 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act. Washington, DC: Rehabilitation Services Administration.

U.S. News & World Report (1993). America's Best Colleges 1994 Guide. Washington, DC: Author.

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