Minnesota isn't exactly a pipeline for historically black colleges and universities, the 105 institutions of higher education that are mostly located in the South.
But several panelists convened Thursday said these schools should be an option for more Minnesota students given their proven track record when comes to producing black teachers, engineers, and scientists and sending others on to graduate school. And they see that success while serving a disproportionate number of students who come low-income homes.
"These are institutions that give hope to the hopeless, courage to the discouraged and belief in one's self in those that might be non believers," said Brian K. Bridges, vice president of research and member engagement for the United Negro College Fund.
Bridges was one of the speakers at Thursday's "Learning & Teaching with Fire: Lessons from HBCU's and Tribal Colleges." The event drew more than 100 local educators, community activists, lawmakers and business leaders. The panel was convened by The Center for School Change, the African American Leadership Forum, St. Paul Indians in Action, UNCF and Migizi Communications.
In addition to historically black colleges and universities, the event also focused on triball-controlled colleges and included speakers from Leech Lake Tribal College and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.
"The record of success among historically black colleges and universities and tribally controlled colleges is dramatic with low-income students of color," said Joe Nathan, the center's executive director. "Minnesota faces issues where we doing very well with some youngsters but we need to dramatically better with others. And we believe in learning from success."
One of the reasons why historically black colleges and universities do a good job preparing students for life after college is because there's a high level of interaction between faculty members and students, Bridges said.
Students also tend to develop a stronger sense of cultural identity at these schools, many of which have diverse teaching staff, he added.
"Many (historically black college and university) HBCU alums are civic minded," he said.
Several of the local panelists were graduates of these colleges. For example, Minneapolis Public School Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson is an alumni of Alabama A&M University.
Ivory Toldson, deputy director of the White House initiative on HBCU's, said K-12 schools can help by making sure students are prepared for college.
Specifically, students need to take advanced math all four years of high school, have a good grade point average, learn a foreign language, and have good understanding of the the world around them, he said.
But, Toldson said, there's often a disconnect between what colleges need and many school districts' priorities for students such as performing well on state standardized tests.
"This is a fact. Colleges don't look at state tests. They just don't," he said.
Schools can also help prepare students for college by making sure students of color have access to experienced, qualified teachers, Toldson said.
Too many times, he said, race is a factor when students are assigned to teachers.
"We can't have a functioning system if every teacher can't teach every child," he said.
Toldson said even though he's routinely asked to speak about historically black colleges and universities, he's never been asked to talk about what the institutions can teach schools serving K-12 students.
He thought it was a great idea.
"One thing I've observed is a tendency for some advisers to high school students advise them away from historically black colleges and universities," he said. "There needs to be a better understanding."