Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education and is also the Director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In an interview with HBCU Buzz Gasman talked about her book Opportunities and Challenges at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Marybeth Gasman and Felecia Commodore have done something incredibly important with Opportunities and Challenges at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” said president of Paul Quinn College Michael Sorrell. “They have provided an opportunity for a different set of voices from HBCU and higher education talent to be heard.”

Gasman co-authored the book along with Felecia Commodore, a Ph. D Candidate in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s our conversation…

Robert: Why did you choose to collaborate on a publication Felecia Commodore? How is your work interwoven?

Dr. Gasman: I have served as Felecia’s Ph.D. advisor for the past four years. I recruited her to Penn. A couple years ago I asked her to serve as the teaching assistant for my seminar on Black colleges because she is interested in doing research in this area. During the class, we asked the students to write chapters for a book and I asked Felecia to edit it with me. I try to give all of my Ph.D. students teaching, research, and writing experience. I have done research related to HBCU leadership since 1994 and Felecia is beginning, what I hope will be a long career, doing research in this area.

Robert: Many HBCUs struggle with alumni giving. Talk about how your book suggests HBCUs should fix this problem.

Dr. Gasman: Alumni giving is a significant issue for HBCUs and has been for years. Some institutions have been able to increase their ability to engage alumni but most HBCUs need work in this area. I have written extensively on this topic — two books — one with Sibby Anderson Thompkins and one with Nelson Bowman. This new book has a chapter related to enhancing alumni giving, the authors suggest a variety of innovative techniques specifically directed at young alumni.

Robert: Media relations is another area in which HBCUs struggle.

Dr. Gasman: Our book brings to light many issues that are rarely discussed with regard to HBCUs. I am hoping that HBCUs will capitalize on the various subjects we bring to the surface and talk more to larger audiences and media outlets about the work they are doing on their campuses. I’ve been saying it for a long time — HBCUs have to do a much better job of explaining their institutional stories — I would really like to see us move the needle in this area. We have some exemplars but many HBCUs are not sharing their stories.

…What I love most is that the book was written by my students — many that graduated from HBCU for their undergraduate degrees. They worked for two years on their chapters, taking a lot of critical feedback. I am so proud of them. They cared deeply about the future of HBCUs and wanted to be a part of it.

Robert: Lastly, you write about how HBCUs can bring up retention.

Dr. Gasman: There are many terrific examples within the HBCU universe to gel institutions to increase retention. We highlight many of these in the new book. I think that it is key for HBCUs to learn from each other and to reach beyond the HBCU world in order to learn from non-HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions. With the emphasis on outcomes based funding, it is essential that HBCUs increase their retention efforts.