It is no secret that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have been struggling—both financially and recognition-wise. Now with the proposed launch of a cable TV network devoted just to HBCUs, many education experts say this may help turn things around for them.
”An HBCU network is necessary. These schools represent the last bastion of the African-American community,” notes Daniel C. Moss, President of HBCU Connect, LLC, an online destination for HBCU students, faculty, and alumni. “Awareness is paramount to their viability and a national cable network will do much to support this notion. Additionally, the level of interest in HBCUs is at an all-time high due to the popularity, in large part, of some of Hollywood’s blockbusters like Drumline and Stomp The Yard.”
The independently owned and sports-themed HBCU Network will target African-American and multicultural high school and college-aged students. Among the programming will be live Division I and II college sports programming from the major HBCU sports conferences as well as HBCU-produced educational and entertainment programming. A group of investors (including cable industry veterans Clint Evans and Candace Walker), led by network CEO and former BET executive Curtis Symonds, is backing the proposed network. The group has formed an independent holding company, C3 Media LLC. The launch is planned for August 2011 with the network based in Atlanta. According to C3 Media, the HBCUs as a collective will hold a 20% interest in the channel.
“The benefits to the HBCUs as a result of the creation of the HBCU Television Network are multi-fold. The direct benefits to the HBCUs include a 20% (of revenue) endowment that will be created for the participating schools by the network. This means that the network will actually play a role in capacity-building and fundraising, two very pressing issues within the HBCU community,” Moss points out. “Additionally, the network fosters exploration of and exposure to HBCU culture. HBCUs are comprised of aspiring, professional (predominantly) African-Americans and their alumni are leaders in their fields. Casting light on the HBCUs history and successes will do much to raise the collective equity of these institutions, as well as the perceived value in their awarded degrees.”
There may also be roll out of a “soft launch” in time for Black History Month next February before the official summer debut. C3 expects to have 10 million subscribers, through digital-basic and sports-tier distribution via a launch within the 20-state HBCU area (Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and Southern regions of the country).
Executives from the network have already inked a deal with ESPN and have reached out to Comcast Cable, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Charter Communications.
Currently there are 105 HBCUs, including public and private, two-year and four-year institutions, medical schools and community colleges. Most were established following the American Civil War and in 1965, the Higher Education Act defined an HBCU as “…any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered or is, according to such an agency or association, making reasonable progress toward accreditation.”
Over the past ten years, HBCUs have been challenged economically, with enrollment dropping. But Moss sees the network as a potential source to attract new students. “The HBCU Network has made it clear to us from the outset that one of their goals is to increase the number of applicants to HBCUs,” he says. “Frankly, any effort in support of HBCUs on the scale of the proposed HBCU Network would certainly encourage more applicants to attend HBCUs if presented in the right way. Perhaps the biggest impact will be seen in the influencing of the alumni and student mindset related to giving. One of the largest challenges that HBCUs face is that of Alumni Giving.”