During Black History Month and beyond, FCAN seeks to uplift Black voices in the state and reaffirm the goal of achieving educational equity for all Floridians, especially those historically left behind.
Floridians with college degrees are more likely to earn higher wages and adapt during economic hardships, yet Florida has an equity gap when it comes to degree attainment. 42.2% of Floridians have a 2-year degree or higher, however, that number is at only 30.8% for Black Floridians. For Bachelor’s degrees, the numbers are more stark: 19.3% of Black Floridians have a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
Fortunately, Florida also has four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), which help provide affordable education to Florida’s students of color and generate millions of dollars in their respective communities. After the recent election and inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris, who received her BA from Howard University, the higher education world has turned a well-earned spotlight on the many excellent students who come out of HBCUs.
FCAN recently spoke with Xavier McClinton, a senior and current Student Body President at Florida A&M University (FAMU), the largest HBCU in the state. Xavier shared why he chose to attend an HBCU, how the university has supported his educational journey, and the important role HBCUs play in our society.
Get to Know: Xavier McClinton
Xavier wasn’t always certain he would attend an HBCU. Although his parents strongly encouraged it (they both attended Southern University, an HBCU in Baton Rouge), he initially wanted to walk onto the football team and study in the prestigious aerospace engineering program at Georgia Tech. However, halfway through his senior year of high school, Xavier had a family member who attended FAMU encourage him to speak to faculty members and administrators at a National Merit Scholar event.
Through conversations with FAMU administrators, including the Dean of the School of Business and Industry and the interim President Dr. Larry Robinson (now President), Xavier learned what FAMU offered in terms of networking, career preparation, scholarships, and personal development. When he changed his mind to attend FAMU, Xavier acknowledges it was “one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made in my life.”
“I wanted to spend the next four years of my life somewhere where I felt I could really grow as an individual, understand who I was as a Black man in America, and understand where I saw myself going into the future,” Xavier said. “One of the great things at FAMU, and HBCUs specifically, is the emphasis on personal development and the small faculty-to-student ratio. Anytime you have an interaction, your professors know you by name…. HBCUs have a really strong emphasis on nurturing the more personable side and soft skills.”
How HBCUs Put Students on the Right Career Path
Xavier feels the larger HBCU network is one of the biggest benefits of attending an HBCU, and he has the work experiences — as well as a job waiting for him after graduation — to prove it. He has found if you connect with a fellow HBCU graduate in the workforce, they go out of their way to support a fellow HBCU alum.
Xavier also shared the ways FAMU prepared him to excel in his career pathway. Most of his classes are under 20 students, and he feels the tight-knit community helps cultivate a strong relationship with each of his professors: “FAMU’s focus on connectedness and collegiality between professors and students has helped me get job offers and will ultimately help me in the workforce.” Importantly, Xavier values the social mobility pathways that HBCUs provide. His professors go out of their way to ensure HBCU students — regardless of background — are prepared for the work that they do in the future, teaching students soft skills beyond content knowledge for students to succeed in college and the professional workplace.
Most of all, Xavier feels HBCUs are special in their emphasis on individual growth. At orientation, students are encouraged to find an upperclassmen mentor who helps give advice and encourages students to envision their educational pathway. Students are particularly supported in their environment, but also encouraged to imagine how they fit into larger society. Xavier shares that there is something singular about an HBCU alum: they have “a special confidence… HBCUs produce an environment where you get to be comfortable in who you are, and so you really get to understand what’s your purpose.”
HBCU Graduates are Community-Focused
Xavier emphasizes that FAMU is a premier institution that welcomes students from diverse backgrounds and prepares them for the workforce, as well as the rest of their life. He argues “HBCUs are a strong way to address income inequality in Florida… you take students from low-income backgrounds, and their education system they grew up in may not have been strong, but HBCUs help build that [educational] foundation for you and then students can grow and learn from there.” His observations are founded in data that shows minority-serving institutions serve as engines of upward mobility for low-income students. Xavier has seen many freshmen who didn’t think of themselves as good students in high school flourish in such a supportive environment that emphasizes care, as well as excellence.
To this point, in the fall of 2018, 64% of all undergraduate students at FAMU were eligible for a Pell grant, which indicates they are among the lowest-income students. More broadly, nearly 3 in 4 students attending public HBCUs are Pell-eligible. So to Xavier, students who may be underprepared or did not do as well in high school but “want to get their act together and make a strong impact on the world can come to an HBCU and get a quality education plus a really strong network.”
Xavier pointed out that although about 80% of students at FAMU are Black, FAMU and all HBCUs enroll a diverse array of students. There are students from different parts of the country and world, as well as from all racial, ethnic, and income backgrounds. Amidst the diversity of perspective and experience at HBCUs, built into the curriculum at FAMU is the focus on positive impact. From the professors, school culture, and students themselves, FAMU encourages students to consider “how can you take your majors and make a strong impact on the world outside… that’s how you produce people like Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Keisha Lance Bottoms [mayor of Atlanta], Philip Agnew [a community activist], and so many other people who are community-focused.”