CP-Africa Diaspora Series with Rebtel – Get a free 100% bonus on your Rebtel calls to Nigeria – Offer courtesy of Rebtel & CP-Africa
FOR Woodlands resident David Olowokere, one of Nigeria’s sons, having a master’s degree in engineering just wasn’t enough for his people back home. So he got a doctorate.
His wife, Shalewa, a civil engineer, didn’t stop at a bachelor’s, either. She went for her master’s.
The same obsession with education runs in the Udeh household in Sugar Land. Foluke Udeh and her husband, Nduka, both have master’s degrees. Anything less, she reckons, would have amounted to failure.
“If you see an average Nigerian family, everybody has a college degree these days,” said Udeh, 32, a physical therapist at Memorial Hermann-Texas
Medical Centre. “But a postgraduate degree, that’s like pride for the family.”
Nigerian immigrants have the highest levels of education in this city and the nation, surpassing whites and Asians, according to Census data bolstered by an analysis of 13 yearly Houston-area surveys conducted by Rice University.
Although they make up a tiny portion of the U.S. population, a whopping 17 per cent of all Nigerians in this country held master’s degrees while four per cent had a doctorate, according to the 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, 37 per cent had bachelor’s degrees.
To put those numbers in perspective, eight per cent of the white population in the U.S. had master’s degrees, according to the Census survey. And one per cent held doctorates. About 19 per cent of white residents had bachelor’s degrees. Asians come closer to the Nigerians with 12 per cent holding master’s degrees and three per cent having doctorates.
The Nigerian numbers are “strikingly high,” said Roderick Harrison, demographer at the Joint Centre for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that specializes in researching black issues.
“There is no doubt that these are highly educated professionals who are probably working in the petrochemical, medical and business sectors in Houston.”
Harrison analyzed the census data for the Houston Chronicle
Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University who conducts the yearly Houston Area Survey, suspects the percentage of Nigerian immigrants with postgraduate degrees is higher than Census data shows.
Of all the Nigerian immigrants he reached in his random phone surveys 1994 through 2007 — 45 households total — Klineberg said 40 per cent of the Nigerians said they had postgraduate degrees.
“These are higher levels of educational attainment than were found in any other…community,” Klineberg said.
There are more than 12,000 Nigerians in Houston, according to the latest Census data, a figure sociologists and Nigerian community leaders say is a gross undercount. They believe the number to be closer to 100,000.
Staying in school
The reasons Nigerians have more postgraduate degrees than any other racial or ethnic group are largely due to Nigerian society’s emphasis on mandatory and free education. Once immigrating to the U.S., practical matters of immigration laws get in the way.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 made it easier for Africans to enter the U.S., but mostly as students or highly skilled professionals — not through family sponsorships, Klineberg said.
So many Africans pursue higher levels of education as an unintended consequence of navigating the tricky minefield of immigration, said Amadu Jacky Kaba, an associate professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, who has done research on African immigrants in the U.S.
“In a way, it’s a Catch-22 — because of immigration laws you are forced to remain in school, but then the funny thing is you end up getting your doctorate at the age of 29,” Kaba said. “If you stay in school, immigration will leave you alone.”
Although Kaba, who teaches Africana Studies, is not from Nigeria (he is Liberian), he said he, too, found himself pursuing a master’s and then a doctorate to remain in this country legally.
But not all Africans have to go this route. Some say their motivation is driven by their desire to overcome being a double minority: Black and African.
Take Oluyinka Olutoye, 41, associate professor of pediatric surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. He came to this country already as a medical doctor but decided to pursue his doctorate in anatomy to help set himself apart.
“Being black, you are already at a disadvantage,” said Olutoye, whose wife, Toyin, is an anesthesiologist at Baylor. “You really need to excel far above if you want to be considered for anything in this country.”
All this talk of education creates high expectations for children of Nigerian immigrants. The eldest child of David Olowokere, chairman of the engineering technologies department at Texas Southern University, for example, is already working on her master‘s degree in public health in Atlanta; the middle child is pursuing a bachelor’s in pre-medicine. His youngest, a son, attends The Woodlands High School. He already has aspirations to go into engineering, just like his parents, Olowokere beams.
“The goal is for them to do as good as us — if not better,” he said.
Olutoye put it another way.
“The typical saying in a Nigerian household is that the best inheritance that a parent can give you is not jewelry or cash or material things, it is a good education,” he said. “It is expected.”
PHDs: Is higher learning helping Africa?
Ejike Okpa II, a Nigerian in Dallas, Texas analyzed the craze for higher degrees and says it gets one good employment only.
Economic empowerment is about ownership and control, as opposed to a plethora of degrees and certificates that often end up costing more to obtain than the spill-over benefits to the greater community in the form of job creation and sustainable employment base. This is a debatable proposition though.
There are examples of some highly educated people impacting the greater community by doing what they have passion for, doing the heavy lifting – hard work and dedication and applying entrepreneurial efforts, rather than regurgitated knowledge/lessons acquired because one was patient to have gone through the attendance requirements, paid the fees and scored minimum grades to earn a paper.
PHD – Permanent Head Damage.
PHD – Passion Hard-work Dedication.
MBA – Minor Bank Account.
MBA – Major Bank Account.
The above is satirical to denote that education has mostly not delivered for the black race. Of the 5,000 major influential world global corporations for example, hardly any has roots in Africa. In a recent survey and ranking of world universities and colleges, only a few universities in two African countries made the list. Another notable challenge: Many black institutions in U.S. and Africa hardly have any endowment, and basically run on thin resources.
“In 2007, there were over 1.9 million black owned businesses in the U.S. That number is growing rapidly. According to the U.S. Census, the average black owned business grosses about $72,000 per year. This is below the national average for other minority businesses, which gross an average of $179,000. In addition, non-minority firms gross an average of $490,000 per year.”
No Nigerian university has any endowment to speak of, and of all the clamour and glamour of wealthy Nigerians, none of them has stepped up to endow any faculty or school in a Nigerian university. Rather, they will give millions to build or support churches and mosques, just like black folks do in U.S.: Build mega churches but create no jobs.
Unemployment is highest in African-American communities, and despite many that claim to be rich even enjoying the rare rank of billionaires, the trickle-down effect is marginal. Rich African-Americans have no significant workforce economic impact as can be seen with entertainers and athletes, the highest earners in the African-American clan, but a group whose collateral impact is often imagined than quantified. Of all business enterprises/ companies formed in Texas by African-Americans, more than 70 per cent are for non-profits. This begs the question: Whose profit are they looking for before they make theirs? Small businesses, the largest employer in U.S.: Convenience stores, restaurants, handy-man services, construction services, African-Americans are least represented. In Dallas for example, there is no African-American 3-5 star owned restaurants. Of all gas stations and conveniences in black neighbourhoods, less than five are owned by African-Americans. Majority are owned by immigrants.
Without a bank in U.S. owned by African-Americans worth a billion dollars, even with a yearly consumption value approaching a $1 trillion, and many communities lack community banks or viable credit unions, playing in U.S. competitive economic arena becomes like one pulling a tooth with a toothpick.
Access to capital is a limiting factor, and one is further limited if they own no financial institution to provide credit. According to U.S. Department of Commerce, ethnic minorities have on the average less credit access than Caucasians.
Credit/capital is the juice for labour to make goods. And when Africans-Americans are lent capital/credit, they are most likely to end up with higher interest rate payment than most; a stifling and choking proposition. Therefore, to be considered a significant player in the world global economic order with domestic presence, prayers will not cut it. One must own their own financial institutions and extend credit to their community and constituents. Africans/Blacks must quit being seen as players and migrate to referees, in which role, they call the game fair or foul.
It does appear folks will work for others’ establishments Monday-Friday to devote their man-hours, Saturday they rest and on Sunday, they pray for strength to continue again M-F. Blacks would rather go work for the government or non-black owned company than theirs, just like Africans will prefer working for multinational corporations than nurture theirs into a multinational company. In today’s Nigeria/Africa, many multinational corporations do not allow Nigerians/Africans access to the same set of amenities! You got the gist!!
Here are some statistics – Blacks in U.S. are the most to graduate with Ph.D., but often create the least economic impact and benefits for their community. Most blacks with MBA, rather go work for someone or corporation than actually own a business. Most blacks end up teaching others how to graduate with business education but never muster the courage to go out and own one for themselves.
So the question is, if education is seen as an enabler not necessarily an equalizer, how come for blacks or Africans, the outcome of their education appears less than? Does this stretch the notion that equal opportunity as in education, does not mean equal outcome?
Since labour (skilled and unskilled) is seen and considered the most viable/critical of all factors of production, and blacks and Africans rather give others their labour, can this be the reason for the less than outcome?
Until certain fundamental approaches/attitudes /culture in the manner Africans/blacks conduct their affairs are structurally altered for positive outcome with unapologetic stride and drive to elevate and depart from the squalour and door mat situations, the dance and song in the square about educational titles, are just that – clamour/glamour with little substance.
Now go take on the day: Shelve the degrees and cultivate PHD – Passion Hard-work and Dedication.