The Great Debate: Why I Chose a PWI Over a HBCU

At least once a month when I log into Facebook, I see this argument on my timeline. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) versus Predominonantly White Institutions (PWIs). I tend to stay out of the crossfire by scrolling past such statuses and minding my own damn business. It’ not that I don’t care. Just the opposite. I understood the importance of African-Americans attending and supporting HBCUs.

But for me, back in 2005, the decision wasn’t as clear cut As valedictorian of my high school class, I’d worked really hard to secure scholarships and grants for college. Three of the largest scholarships I was awarded offered fully paid tuition and fees: Take Stock in Children of Palm Beach County, Florida Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars Award and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s Adopted High School Scholarship.

I applied to University of Miami (UM), Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), and Florida State University (FSU) and was accepted to all three. With UM being a private university, I knew that my pre-paid scholarship funds weren’t going to stretch as far they do at public state university or college. Sure enough even with the combination of my Florida Bright Futures and Take Stock scholarships I still needed $10,000 more…each year…for four years. And that was just tuition alone! NEXT!

Now to be honest FAMU was originally my first choice ever since both my older sister and cousin attended. However, both of them experience issues with the financial aid department, i.e. not receiving their funds on time. Hmmm…. Maybe things had improved since then? But then I received my housing plan for my freshman year. Paddyfoote Complex?! Oh hell no! If you know anything about FAMU, then you know that this particular on-campus dorm is the worse of the worse.

But the third strike (pun not intended but kind of cool nonetheless) was my financial aid award letter from the school. Apparently in the fine print of the Adopted High School Scholarship, it is stated that this scholarship only takes effect after all other scholarships have been applied first. In other words, I wouldn’t be refunded any of my scholarship money for personal use. FAMU would apply my Take Stock and Florida Bright Futures to tuition, fees, housing, meal plans, etc. and the Adopted High School scholarship would’t really be needed in my case.

The thought of not having control over money I’d earned didn’t sit well with me A quick call to FSU’s financial aid office led me to discover that this wasn’t standard practice. The way my scholarships would work at Florida State is that they would take of one of my pre-paid tuition plans and apply it towards tuition and fees only. My other pre-paid tuition plan and all other scholarships would be refunded to me and I would be responsible for paying for my other college expenses (housing, food, books, etc.).

So my decision to attend a PWI in lieu of a HBCU was a financial one. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to rely, nor did I want to place such pressure, on my family to cover me if I didn’t receive my funds on time. Some may call my reason a cop out and that the possible stuggle would have been well worth the HBCU experience. Maybe. Maybe no. I guess I won’t ever know, now will I?