Historical Black Colleges and Universities were born out of America’s struggles.

White Americans struggled to get an education separate from Blacks who many of them felt inferior and

Black Americans, barred from attending almost all White institutions, struggled to achieve the academic preparation they needed to advance in life.

But the struggle of Black and White has changed, slowly and surely and Black colleges, like so many other Black institutions are in a new kind of struggle – a struggle to survive.

Enrollment at Black colleges is down, so are graduation rates and dollars. Enrollment is down, not because Black students aren’t attending college, it’s because White institutions are cherry picking our best. Thirty or forty years ago they started by taking our best athletes, now they’re taking our best students, attracting them with educational programs and financial support Black colleges can’t compete with.

Can HBCU’s survive?

“I use a phrase that got me in trouble. After 7½ years in this space and seeing a decline overall, my phrase is, ‘I am hopeful, but not optimistic,’” Johnny Taylor, former president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports public HBCUs, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. .

For the same article, author and University of Missouri journalism professor Ron Stodghill, who wrote “Where Everybody Looks Like Me: At the Crossroads of America’s Black Colleges and Culture,” theorizes that by “the year 2035 the number of HBCUs will be down to 35 and only 15 of those will be thriving.”

Enrollment Down

Facts are, things haven’t been good for HBCUs for a while, but thanks to a Black pride and empowerment movement, and deep cultural connections, HBCU enrollment still continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate than Predominately White Institutions.

Enrollment rose to its zenith, about 325,000, in 2010, the year after Barack Obama became president.

But today, the tide that brought so many African-Americans into America’s middle class seems to be shifting. In the five years following that 2010 spike, enrollment declined by 10 percent — compared to the 4 percent drop for all colleges during that period, federal data shows.

Today, close to 300,000 students attend the country’s 100 HBCUs in 19 states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Some schools are reporting enrollment gains this year. Between 2010 and 2015, however, 20 Black colleges saw enrollment plummet by more than 25%; only 22 Black colleges saw increases during that time.

Some scoff at such at dire predictions about the future of HBCU’s, but it is not hard to find trouble spots.

Un-prepared Students

In Georgia, for example, Fort Valley State and Savannah State graduate fewer than 30% of their freshmen within six years. That is the case at more than half of HBCUs; the six-year graduation rate for all U.S. colleges is 59%.

A lot of students arrive at Black colleges unprepared academically or financially. Even more than 150 years after HBCUs started, many freshmen are still first-generation college students, and more than 70% percent of students receive some kind of federal financial aid.

“A lot of times students come in on a bubble academically, and they come in on a bubble financially,” Stodghill said. “Then the perfect storm hits them sophomore year and they gotta leave with debt and can’t get their transcript to go to a community college, because they can’t pay the bill.”

Money Issues

Poor financial decisions put some HBCUs on the list. One wrong move Paine College made, its new president said, was restarting a football program in 2012 that lasted one full season. Paine is in a legal battle to keep its accreditation because of such mistakes.

Most HBCUs have never had large budgets, and the problem has become worse for many. In recent years:

States have cut funding to three out of four public HBCUs since the recession. Louisiana’s funding to Grambling State University, for example, was cut in half in a recent eight-year stretch.

HBCUs have long struggled to attract money from major foundations or donors. Bill and Camille Cosby’s $25 million gift to Spelman in 1988 is believed to be the largest donation to an HBCU. “That was 30 years ago,” Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Lack of Alumni Support

HBCUs have also looked inward at another longstanding problem: the lack of alumni support. Barely one in 10 graduates gave money back to their college, U.S. News & World Report reported. At Princeton, the most recent alumni giving rate was more than 60%, U.S. News said. At Morehouse, about 20% of alumni donate to the school.

These numbers are particularly concerning when you look at the number of professionals in American who graduated from HBCUs. According to the United Negro College Fund, 70%t of all Black doctors and dentists and 50% of Black engineers and public school teachers came from Black colleges. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, reports that 80%t of Black judges, 50% of Black lawyers and Black professors at non-HBCUs, and 40% of the Black members of congress, attended Black colleges.

“There are only two institutions that are ours — the Black church and the colleges,” Taylor said. “These are the entities that got us through. All of our teachers and role models are HBCU grads. So whether or not you attended an HBCU or not, we have all been touched by them.”

What can be done?

Of course there are a lot of people with a lot of suggestions on what can be done to improve the course for HBCUs, but most of them boil down to HBCUs thinking creatively and out of the box. These suggestions often propose changing the typical HBCU model: by attracting a more diverse enrollment, and changing from a model that attracts mostly traditional students. Improved online offerings, increased weekend and weekend class options could help attract more students. 

•Less-known public HBCUs like Bluefield State College in West Virginia, West Virginia State University, and Lincoln University in Missouri have student bodies that are more than 50% White. Other HBCUs could fulfill part of their long-term mission of providing a high-quality education for African Americans by embracing such racial diversity.

•Beyond just adding more White students on historically Black campuses say HBCUs must embrace age and socioeconomic diversity as a way to attract more students, i.e. more tuition, fees and funding.

Here are a few other suggestions for reviving HBCUs. What do you suggest? What do you think of these suggestions.

•Expand summer class offerings. Earlier, we explored expanded Eevening and weekend classes

• Offer evening and weekend classes, and expand the number and scope of summer classes offered.

These proposal sounds simple, but Top HBCUs like Howard University, Spelman College, and Morehouse College have followed the traditional scheduling model of elite liberal arts colleges and universities for years, offering nearly all of their undergraduate classes between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays.

•It would be in the best interest of most HBCUs to add courses that fit the needs of the 72% of their students who, according to the 2010 US Census and the related 2011 American Community Survey, work at least part time and come from families with incomes at or below the national average. These offerings could include evening and weekend classes that meet only once a week and more undergraduate-level summer classes. students.

•Work more systematically with other colleges, local school districts, and progressive community organizations.

• Collaboration with communities of color, school districts, or even other nearby HBCUs or predominantly better serve nontraditional students

Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, posted a list of traits in response to the question, “Which Black Colleges will survive and why?”

Those HBCUs that will survive in the 21st century are those:

1. …. that have an institutional niche — a strength — something that makes them stand out. Strong programs draw students, funders, and alumni support.

2. …. that are led by bold leaders with brave sensibilities.

3. …. with leaders that make decisions based on data — data at the institutional level as well as at the state and federal level.

4. …. with presidents that speak out on national higher education issues, especially those that directly influence HBCUs.

5. …. that look closely at their retention and graduation rates and if they don’t see change and improvement, they make immediate change.

6. …. that learn to ‘manage up’ in terms of their funder relationships. If you get funding, you have to make sure that you keep the funder informed about your use of the money.

7. …. with leaders who remember to respect faculty and faculty input. Happy faculty = happy students.

8. …. that improve student services and the treatment of students as they move through the various student services venues on campus. Satisfied students make happy alumni that give back to the institution.

9. …. with leaders that roll up their sleeves and work with all entities on campus. HBCU presidents cannot afford to get caught up in titles and the trappings of these titles — actually no president should.

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