It started with a conversation on a plane.
TCC Northeast’s Joan Johnson, department chair and professor of government, was sitting next to Murray Fortner, TCC Northeast’s department chair and professor of psychology and sociology, en route to a conference in summer 2017. They were discussing an article Johnson read about racial disparities in student loan debt. According to the Brookings article, “Black-white disparity in student loan debt more than triples after graduation,” black students owe $7,400 more on average than white students upon graduating with a bachelor degree. Four years later, black college graduates have nearly $25,000 more in student loan debt than white graduates.
Johnson also pointed to a study by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute, which found that students who attend historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) take out student loans at higher rates and graduate with significantly more debt than those who go to other schools.
“Out of that discussion came this idea to try to mitigate that,” said Johnson.
HBCUs were established to give black students an opportunity for higher education when practically no other colleges would admit them. Today, they still play an important role on the higher education landscape; according to UNCF, HBCUs have stronger rates than other institutions for retaining and graduating first-generation, low-income, African American students.
Johnson and Fortner investigated and found that TCC had a handful of existing articulation agreements with HBCUs. They believed more could be done.
“We have all these HBCUs not only in our state but in surrounding states,” said Johnson. “If we can help these students by giving them another avenue for completing their first two years of college, at a lower cost and without sacrificing quality, that would be something we could do to help them out.”
“Beyond that, the intercultural exchange would benefit black and non-black students,” added Fortner. “Getting to know more about each other is always good. We could have more black students attending TCC, and possibly more non-black students attending HBCUs, which have good education, engineering, nursing and other programs that all students should consider.”
So the pair began working on an initiative to create stronger pathways between TCC and HBCUs.
“We saw a need and felt it necessary,” said Fortner, who is the product of an HBCU, Grambling State University.
As professors, we spend a lot of time discussing problems and monitoring problems, and we wanted to do more. We felt like we wanted to be service professors, taking it from talking about the problem to actually providing some type of solution.
Murray Fortner, Professor of Psychology and Sociology
Fortner and Johnson pictured expanded HBCU partnerships that included joint admissions and scholarships. With the blessing of Linda Wright, TCC Northeast dean of social and human sciences, and Linda Braddy, vice president for academic affairs, Fortner and Johnson began developing contacts at HBCUs. They found everyone they reached receptive to the idea of a community college agreement. With the support of their campus leadership, Fortner and Johnson passed their work on to the District level.
Their idea was met with great enthusiasm. In fact, for some time, there had been discussion of forming an articulation agreement with Texas Southern University, an HBCU in Houston, and Fortner and Johnson’s work accelerated discussions. TCC South President Peter Jordan facilitated contact with Texas Southern leaders and details of an agreement began to coalesce.
In summer 2018, TCC and Texas Southern representatives signed a memorandum of understanding to create an academic pipeline between the two institutions. The agreement recognized TCC and Texas Southern as active partners committed to providing greater educational opportunities and services for students. The partnership established a 2+2 course alignment framework to put students on track to graduate with a bachelor's degree within four years, and the agreement includes scholarships and joint admissions, just as Fortner and Johnson envisioned.
“We are opening the world to our students,” said TCC Chancellor Eugene Giovannini. “Tarrant County College’s new partnership with Texas Southern University will streamline the transfer process by providing a seamless, cost-effective pathway for TCC students to earn a bachelor degree and enter the workforce.”
“Texas Southern is proud of this shared commitment to increase educational opportunities for those eager to obtain a degree and strengthen their potential for a great career,” said Texas Southern Provost Kendall Harris.
TCC is continuing to work toward partnerships with additional HBCUs.
“These agreements are essential to provide educational opportunities to all students and prepare a workforce for Texas and the nation,” said John Spencer, TCC District registrar and director of Academic Support Services.
The vital role HBCUs play in reaching that goal align with our mission of affordability and access. HBCUs are still an integral part of the black educational experience in America and continue to grow in enrollments. So I think this idea will have new life and support moving forward.
John Spencer, Director of Academic Support Services
That’s exactly what Johnson and Fortner hoped.
“We’ll help the student whose interest is in going to the HBCU, and we’ll also help the student who didn’t really know about the HBCU as an option, but now is aware,” said Fortner. “TCC grows its population of black students and facilitates cultural literacy on its campuses. And the HBCU gets transfer students who are prepared and ready to graduate from that institution. So we’re all benefiting from these partnerships. It’s a win-win-win situation.”