Projecting False Truths: The 4.0 GPA at an HBCU vs. a PWI

Note: Today’s op ed comes to you courtesy of George M. Johnson, an advocate for change in Higher Education.  He is the Former Director of Student Accounts at Virginia Union University and counsels students properly preparing for college.  He has been published in and blogs at  Follow him on twitter @iamgmjohnson

Yesterday, a tweet from @Med_School12 took Social Media by storm that stated “A 4.0 at a HBCU is not equivalent to a 4.0 at a rigorous PWI.  Sorry, but it’s the truth”.  Immediately twitter swarmed this tweet as the thousands of retweets with comments ranged from a question mark to all out fury.  I too, took my frustrations out tweeting how my multiple degrees from HBCU’s have in no way made me less that of a person who received their degrees from a PWI.  After the initial shock and awe of the situation, I decided to sit down, gather my thoughts, and really think about what she actually wrote.

The tweet, although less than 140 characters is much layered in contradiction and furthermore should have been sold as her opinion not truth.

Issue 1: What differs a PWI from a Rigorous PWI

At first read, the tweet all but diminishes the worth of attending an HBCU in comparison to going to a PWI.  But upon further analysis, she actually does compliment and offend all in the same sentence.  Based on her teeth, she agrees that a 4.0 at an HBCU is equivalent or better than that of one from a normal PWI, just not a rigorous PWI.  So the true question that needs to be answered is “what is a rigorous PWI”.  Is it a top 20 ranked college? Is it a private school as opposed to a public school?  Is it based on the college’s endowment?  Either way, the determination of what makes one college rigorous compared to another is purely subjective to the student that attends.  Some students probably thought Harvard was easy as compared to those who may have struggled at Rutger’s.  There is no true way of determining the “rigors” of one college over another.

Issue 2: Is the statement based on where you were educated or where you teach?

This is one I had to think about.  Let’s say the PWI is made up of 5 professors that all were educated at HBCU’s.  The school they are being compared to is an HBCU that is made up of 5 professors that were all taught at PWI’s.  There is probably no need to go any further as you can probably see where I am going with this.  The statement does not take into account the people that are actually doing the instruction.  Based on the statement, your professors could have come from community college and HBCU’s, but as long as they are “worthy” enough to teach at a “rigorous” PWI, the learning will be greater.  But if you attend an HBCU with all professors with Harvard Education, your learning will not be equivalent because the perception of the HBCU as a whole is less than the standard.  The patriarchy and privilege in that statement alone is disappointing.

Issue 3: The final issue, which was also my initial reply, “whose truth”? 

In this age of social media, people are very quick to make accusations, assumptions, opinions, and poorly executed statements and claim that they are truth as if some actual research had been done.  Her claiming that the PWI she is attending is rigorous for her is “her truth”.  This should not be generalized and projected on others as a factual statement about the university that she attends.  My truth is that I have never attended a PWI, and any statement made about the rigors of one would solely be my opinion.  And to play devil’s advocate, there are many people whose truth is that they attended a PWI and an HBCU and found the HBCU to be more rigorous than the PWI.  That statement vice versa is someone else’s truth.

Living in the age of social media can be quite fun and intriguing, but it can also be dangerous when we begin spreading our truth’s as facts and making them the beliefs of others.  Rather than arguing if a 4.0 at an HBCU is equivalent to that of a 4.0 at a PWI, we should be praising and commending anyone that receives a 4.0 at any institution of Higher Education.  For that takes “rigorous” work.


Read all of our posts about HBCUs by clicking here.


0 Replies to “Projecting False Truths: The 4.0 GPA at an HBCU vs. a PWI”

  1. I had to google those terms. As a white person I had no idea that there was a difference. Obviously I’ve never been to an Historically Black College or University and was educated at a Predominately White Institution. However, I don’t beleive that a 4.0 should be so readily cheapened in that matter. A 4.0, no matter where it was earned, is still a 4.0 and should be applauded.

    I had an instructor in college remind me and I’ve since reminded 9-12 students that in 10 years it doesn’t matter what grade you got. What matters is the character of your heart and your work ethic.

  2. A 4.0 GPA is a 4.0 anywhere – period. Some schools may be more rigorous than others but I don’t think it’s fair to group all HBCUs against PWIs.

  3. I think that GPAs are really subjective, no matter what the school. Is a 4.0 at a small HBCU as impressive as a 4.0 at Harvard? No. But not all white schools are automatically more rigorous than all HBCUs.

  4. Rigor is the word used in the tweet. In my opinion student performance is based on individual effort and enthusiasm to learn new things each time. Both institutions have their own standards and how they administer studies could be different. And a point to note is everyone is entitled to their own opinions on matters regarding grading and the institutions attended.

  5. First, I’ve been in the education arena for about 15 years and still don’t know what a HBCU and a PWI are, but I now know from the comments. Again we miss the forest from the trees. NEITHER type institution, if they are teaching, using 20th century, one size fits all methodology, is empowering the student to be successful. IF the pedagogy is flawed, which it tends to be, the student suffers in BOTH arenas. Fix the pedagogy, empower teachers to empower students to be successful and the problem is fixed. BUT when we habitually focus on the trees to the exclusion of the forest the problem never gets fixed. Intential, or oversight?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *