PWI vs. HBCU: What Do the Letters Really Mean?

Written By: Alexis Ditaway

Higher education is one of the most important decisions that someone will make in their life. It can lead to great opportunities, memories and experiences that you will take with you forever. In African-American household, reaching higher education is an even bigger accomplishment. To have reached this point in education in a world with factors constantly holding us back from it is a thing of celebration.

Why is it, then, that we have made the decision of choosing either a PWI (Predominately White Institution) or an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) such a huge debate?

Something that goes without saying is that the two categories of schooling are indeed different. Whether one is better than the other, however, is the central argument in Twitter debates today. Some students at PWIs feel that HBCUs are not nearly as good as PWIs academically, do not help as much financially, and “do not have the same amount of diversity”.

Some counter arguments to this by students at HBCUs is that they would rather have an entire campus that is for them rather than just one building, that the experiences at HBCUs are more fulfilling, and that, in some extremes, black students that choose PWIs are selling out. All of this has been a hot topic for discussion for months now, and something that I had not thought about too heavily until recently, when I was told that me choosing a PWI was me “choosing the education of my oppressor.”

From my personal experience, when I was finalizing my college choice, I was stuck between a PWI (The University of Missouri) and an HBCU (Spelman College). While I had dreamed of having an HBCU experience since childhood, Mizzou had a lot to offer as well. When it came down to it, I chose Mizzou, due to the strength and opportunities they offered specifically for my major. True, it also made more sense financially, but Mizzou was a better fit for me and my needs overall at the time, and I do not regret my decision.

Notice, however, that I said that a PWI was the best decision for ME. Not for everyone. Not for my friends. Not for Twitter. But for ME. Where you decide to get your education does not change the fact that you are pursuing higher education. Students have to pick what works best for them, whether it be academically, financially, by location, or any other factor. Just because it is not in the category that YOU may feel they need to be in, does not mean that they, or their institution, should be bashed.

Consequently, what works for you may not work for the person next to you. So what if you chose an HBCU and they chose a PWI? This difference does not make you better than them, nor give you reason to make assumptions as to why they picked their school. I am tired of feeling like I am on defense mode when asked why I chose a PWI when I was once so determined to go to an HCBU. Let everyone make their choices for themselves, without trying to make people feel guilty or reconsider why they made their decisions.

As I have said before, we live in a world where the odds are stacked against us. We cannot thrive if we constantly find ways to put ourselves against each other. The fact that there are so many black students grinding to get their degrees should not be overshadowed by whether there are more black or white people graduating with them.

WE are making it, no matter what type of institution we attend! We need to stop bashing, questioning, and looking down on each type of school, and instead encourage and support each other in pursuing education period. At the end of the day, that is what truly matters.

There are positives and negatives both in PWIs and HBCUs. The decision on which one to attend is all dependent on the person who is applying. While we should allow each other to make our own decisions, we also must not question or bash each other for these decisions. What’s better for you, does not mean it is the best for everyone. Black kids going to college is a beautiful thing, period. No matter what category your institution falls under.

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