Why is enrollment slipping at historically black colleges?

A former English teacher and assistant principal, Greg Perkins is the creator of the College and Career Ready Project, an organization committed to changing the social and economic lives of all students through education, especially those from challenging socioeconomic environments.

This is his first piece on the AJC Get Schooled blog.

By Greg Perkins

What’s wrong with historically black colleges and universities?

According to data published by the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, HBCU enrollment declined by 14 percent in 2011, wiping out much of the growth of the prior 10 years.

Recently, I was very disappointed in my daughter’s assessment of HBCUs. She seemed to think historically black colleges are second-rate institutions. This view was reiterated when I spoke with a former college roommate who said neither of his children attended or wanted to attend an HBCU after graduating from high school.

A father bemoans his child's lack of interest in attending a HBCU. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

A father bemoans his child’s lack of interest in attending an HBCU. BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Considering that several of my close friends who graduated from HBCUs earn salaries of more than $100,000 annually, including one who is now a millionaire, I was very disappointed my own child held this view. After all, one of the benefits of having a college degree is to get a job that has unlimited earning potential. I reminded my daughter that her cousin, who is still under 30, already makes more than $140,000 a year and is an HBCU graduate.

Why do some African-American students hold these negative views of HBCUs?

Perhaps, these negative views are due to a lack of marketing expertise, recruitment and an inability of HBCU leadership to aggressively pursue the very students they want to serve.

When I think of effective HBCU leadership, I think of Frederick Humphries. Dr. Humphries was president at Florida A&M University when I attended from 1985 until 1989.

In his 16 years leading FAMU, Dr. Humphries recruited the best and brightest African-American students as if they were first-round NFL draft picks. Where is that vigor and pursuit of excellence?

Here is some advice to help HBCUs increase student enrollment:

1. Hire presidents who know how to fund-raise and are politically connected. To attract the best students, you must be able to compete. To compete with the Harvards of the world, you need money.

2. Hire the best grant writers in the business and go after private, state and federal funds to support and grow your academic programs. These people should have an office located next to the president’s office.

3. Hire the best marketing experts your budget will allow. Hire someone from a Fortune 500 company who knows how to market your university the way Apple markets its iPhone.

4. Hire expert recruiters. These recruiters should visit the largest urban high school campuses in the United States. They should attend K-12 education conferences and build relationships with superintendents and middle and high school principals who will serve as ambassadors.

5. Partner with multimillion-dollar athletes, entertainers, politicians, and business leaders and ask for their help.

HBCUs produce 16 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by African-Americans, 25 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in education earned by African-Americans and 22 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields earned by African-American students.

Come on guys. Where is our pride? Oh, and one more thing, it doesn’t matter what color these individuals are who will help revive our once-great institutions.

Reader Comments 0

70 comments
KamalaJones
KamalaJones

Many HBCUs, especially private HBCUs, aren't the financial bargains they once were. Couple that with a Black American culture that is largely regressive and sexist and you have declining enrollments at HBCUs. Ironically, Jackson State University's enrollment is increasing and the best HBCU is Spelman College. Both of these thriving HBCUs are ran by women. That's no coincidence. 

C Aguilar
C Aguilar

Ironically, you mention that one of the problems is that the culture is sexist, so why make a sexist remark at the end of your comment?

KamalaJones
KamalaJones

Many HBCUs aren't a financial bargain. And, Black people like other people like a bargain. 

Celly78Phi
Celly78Phi

My wife and I attended HBCUs.  The platform enabled us to achieve the 1% status. 


Our children, who were outstanding students, only applied to top 15 schools and attended two Ivy League schools.  More importantly, they did not consider HBCUs either.


I agree with the author on the 4 steps.  One step missing was the weak Board of Trustees that exist.  They are a weak link in the efforts to improve the institutions.  They don't hire/pay the leaders to do what is needed and hold them accountable.


The on-line business is another opportunity to expand education and generate revenues.  Why are our schools so far behind that curve?  I believe it is due in part to the leadership and being open to new/fresh ideas.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

Why is enrollment slipping at historically black colleges?


My guess would be that Historically Black Colleges and Universities are not very good schools to attend if you want a job in a high paying field.  Smart Blacks know this and stay from these schools.  If you're going to spend four years of your life attending college and incur all that debt that it takes to get that degree, a good college/university would be a much better investment; however, that being said, having no money and no debt is much, much better than spending a better part of your life paying off student loans.

Charles Douglas Edwards
Charles Douglas Edwards

Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU)s are needed now more than ever ! ! !


HBCU's need money and resources to help educate our young people.


Most are operating on a shoe string budget.


We URGE all people, companies and organizations of goodwill to help.


" A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Waste"


Donate generously $$ $$$ $$$ to the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).



JustSomeThoughts
JustSomeThoughts

Enrollment has dropped for a few reasons.  1)  The over-recruitment of high-performing black students from low-income neighborhoods by elite PWI's.  The whole "pulling the kid out of the hood" mantra.  2) The federal and state government significantly cutting funding to HBCU's.  Grants have long been a support of these institutions.  Most of them were started with land grants almost a hundred years ago.  3) Most PWI enrollment is generated by marketing, specifically football and basketball.  Simply put, most kids want to enroll in schools that are always visible on TV.  If the best NCAA athletes (almost all Black) played for HBCU's like back in the day, visibility might be alot different with TV contracts.  4) Scholarships.  Alums of HBCU's have a more difficult time giving back because of entrenched economic disparities that face many of its' graduates.  This is a systemic American problem.  If Clark Atlanta had the same endowment that Harvard had, this wouldn't be a conversation.  Simply put, there are a variety of reasons as to why enrollment is down, just as there are a variety of reasons why tuition has gone up.  Still a great quality education and great one-on-one cultivation for students.  HBCU's are responsible for more than 60% of the "Professional" Black workforce.  You take them away, and you literally cripple the remainder of the Black population that has not already been maimed by societal intervention or lackthereof.  

gapeach101
gapeach101

@JustSomeThoughts

Speaking for my children, football and basketball did not enter into their decisions. Perhaps because they are female?

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

So the answer to enrollment "slippage" is better marketing?  Marketing is a fancy word for "lying".


Here's an old business saying that is applicable:  Take care of the customers, and the profits will take care of themselves.


So if you improve the quality of the graduate (taking care of the customer - the student), the reputation (the "profit") will attract new students to the school (take care of itself).

Greg Perkins
Greg Perkins

First of all, HBCU’s are just as integrated as any of the majority white universities are. Have you taken a look at FAMU’s baseball team? It is majority White with a really good White coach! It seems that White people see Blacks as integrating with them and not the opposite. Second of all, HBCUS offer a more nurturing academic environment and instills a sense of hope that you can succeed academically and lead regardless of your color. Thirdly, a lot of today’s African American students are attracted to the bright lights of majority white colleges with strong athletic teams that they see on TV every week only to find out that once they arrive on campus, they often feel alienated and discouraged by not feeling they are not “truly’ a part of the system if they are not a superstar athlete. I encourage diverse student populations regardless if it is an HBCU or the University of Florida. Students just need to be aware that what they see on TV is not the reality they will face.

jrochelle120
jrochelle120

Wow @sold1000 I think you and I are the only educated people on this blog today. People the college doesn't make the person, the person makes the person. I have three degrees from my HBCU not because I needed three but because I grew up in the ghetto and wanted something better for myself. These big name schools rejected me because my high school wasn't the best. My HBCU saw the greatness in me and gave me a chance to do good. It made me a better person, I now have a great job and I moved my mom out of the projects into a nice neighborhood. Did your college make you a better person or richer!!! Money ain't everything people

sold1000
sold1000

@OriginalProf Unfortunately, there are only a few of us (college grads) that read the AJC.  I'm sure you figured that out, right?

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

I really wish that the African-American students would post here, for nearly all of you sound very unlike such students! 

I've known faculty who teach at HBCUs, faculty who have gotten their doctorates at them and then taken jobs at mainstream universities, and graduate students who got one of their earlier degrees there. So although I'm neither African-American nor a student, I have formed an idea about them.

Some, as I noted earlier, are very good.  They're the old, old ones, and private schools.  Some, like Spelman and Morehouse, go back to the days of slavery and have long been supported proudly by other black people who are successful. Many are not, and are public schools. I won't speculate about some of the murkier reasons why states, largely Southern, would support them. This state support could also cause private donors to go elsewhere. 

But I do think what is badly needed is for some of these marginal HBCUs to merge. They are dividing up the dwindling student market and funding. Their histories are similar: educating the black children when others wouldn't. I think it would only strengthen that history for some to consolidate.

sold1000
sold1000

Oh yeah...and Oprah Winfey is a graduate of an HBCU...Tennessee State University and she is barely getting by these days.  Miss me with it &%$#@

newsphile
newsphile

Why should anyone want to attend a college or university that is segregated in today's world?  The idea seems racist to me.  I don't understand why anyone who has fought for equality would continue to hold onto mostly segregated schools, beauty pageants, or anything else that fits the definition. I just don't get it.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@newsphile 

You really should read the old Uncle Remus story, "Brer Rabbit and the Briar Patch."

SunDropMan
SunDropMan

@newsphile It's called hypocrisy.  It's called a "two way street".  The blacks get a pass today even though things have swung a different direction. It's called "democraps and liberalism" and about a dozen other things.  The only thing "equal" today in many aspects is "inequality" when it comes to the new minority, the white person. Simple as that !  Wonder what would be said if there were still "historically white colleges"?

sold1000
sold1000

It's very, very sad to read the comments of you people.  The internet is the perfect place to spew your hate while no one can see your face. It says a lot about each of you.  But my comments are being spoken to worms...

sold1000
sold1000

@Susan89 I am so shocked by your words that I can't type right now.  I'll get you shortly my dear.  

Susan89
Susan89

Another thing a lot of people that graduated from a HBCU do NOT give back.  They are ONLY thinking of themselves.  Forget the fact that those were the ONLY colleges not that long ago that would accept them.  Now that they have their little careers they are NOT willing to give back like they should .  You don't have those type of issues at predominately mixed colleges.  You won't find it.  Why?  Because their people give back!  Most African-Americans are very selfish.  They have the 'crab in a bucket' mentality.  They don't want to see anyone get ahead of them.  They always want to feel that they are 'better' than the next African-American.  Those people that go to HBCU's have that Jim Crow mentality.  Really sad.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Susan89 

I can only reply anecdotally. I have known many colleagues at the Georgia research university where I taught before retirement who went to HBCUs. None of them thought or felt the way you describe. They especially wanted to help their African-American students to get ahead; and they attributed much of their community feeling to being immersed in their black community in their HBCUs and receiving support from black faculty there.  They wished to pass it along.

PITTFAN
PITTFAN

@Susan89 

You just need to take your racist self and leave these message boards.  I have never encountered someone as racist as you.  WOW

Susan89
Susan89

If those same students that went to HBCU's are earning $140k a year, had they gone to a predominately white college they would have been making that plus more coming out of the door.  So that isn't really a good example.  HBCU's are not really recognized as they should be in the world.  If an employer had to select a new employee and had to choose between Spelman College graduate and an Emory University graduate; which person do you think he or she will select?  You got it, Emory.  The students at Emory University's Goizueta School of Business already have jobs that pay way more than $140k a year waiting on them when they graduate.  I know this for a fact.  HBCU's just isn't a good idea if you want to earn a lot of money.  There are people without a degree that earn more than $140k a year.

Greg Perkins
Greg Perkins

@Susan89

Your numbers are not accurate. According to the Census Bureau only about 9% of the population earns $100,000 or more a year. So do students who graduate from Emory outpace the national average? I don’t think so. If that were the case, every student in the US would be trying to get into that school. So don’t state that the average college educated person earns that type of income. It simply is not TRUE!


JustSomeThoughts
JustSomeThoughts

@Susan89 I wholeheartedly disagree.  I seriously doubt that every graduate from Emory has a job waiting for them upon graduation.  In fact, I KNOW that Emory has issues placing many of their graduate students post-graduation.  There may be a few that have interned at companies that offer well-compensated positions after graduating but I'm willing to bet that is not commonplace.  I would put Florida A&M's SBI numbers up against Emory Goizueta's anyday.

Q1225
Q1225

@JustSomeThoughts @Susan89 While Susan89 sounds like an awful person, Goizueta is tied with Chicago-Booth, Dartmouth-Tuck, and Penn-Wharton for the best job placement in the country (98% offer rate).  Goizueta's average starting salary is $107K with a $26K signing bonus.  What are Florida A&M's stats, or are you basing your assertion on unverifiable anecdotes?

Starik
Starik

@Greg Perkins @Susan89 Don't forget the need in every institution to have minority representatives at every level, at least proportionate to their share of the population. The people who really have people fighting over them are black graduates of good schools, including Morehouse, Howard and some other black schools.

AlreadySheared
AlreadySheared

"Recently, I was very disappointed in my daughter’s assessment of HBCUs. She seemed to think historically black colleges are second-rate institutions."


They play professional baseball in Japan, but truly great Japanese players aspire to play MLB in the US.

They play professional basketball in Europe, but the best European players are in the NBA.


If you want to be top-notch, you need to run with the best.  It cracked me up when my son, then in high school, told me was psyched to be taking math classes "with the Asian kids".  

Comparing the test scores of HBCU students to those of the best colleges in the US, one might conclude that HBCUs ARE second-rate institutions.


Kudos to your daughter for wanting to run with the big dogs.

UnderstandingAtlanta
UnderstandingAtlanta

HBCU's aren't segregated schools.  They are schools that have historically served a population that wasn't accepted into others.  There's nothing that can be done for them to no longer be HBCUs - just as there's nothing that can change the history of many PWIs that historically only allowed whites to attend.  Post 1955, there was a large and growing discrepancy with funding of these schools that has continued. 


There are some HBCUs that should consider consolidating to optimize operations and instructions.  There are others that are doing a good job with competing with schools that have always enjoyed more funding - to hire better professors, decreased teaching load, better facilities....


As a graduate of FAMU, I will admit that there are some things we aren't the best at, but there are other areas where we excel.  And on the FAMU vs FSU discussion, the only reason the two schools are even in the same city is they both were created to serve a minority population (FAMU - African Americans/FSU - Women).  After "separate but equal" was struck down, whites didn't send their children to black schools and many in the black community at the time felt the same about sending their children to white schools.  Fast forward 50 years - both sets of schools still exist...

Starik
Starik

@UnderstandingAtlanta Fast forward 50 more and perhaps both sets of schools will slowly disappear. Hopefully. There will always be outliers, like Liberty University and Bob Jones, but hopefully we'll get to the point where black folks are fully assimilated into the American stew. 

bu2
bu2

@UnderstandingAtlanta


FAMU has more reason to exist than Albany St./Darton, Savannah St./Armstrong Atlantic and Ft. Valley St./Macon St..


FSU is more of a research university.  So FAMU/FSU is more like Kennesaw St./Georgia St./Georgia Tech.  It is just that FAMU is HBCU.  But most of these public HBCUs are very close to similar universities that aren't HBCU and usually have far better graduation rates.

straker
straker

A better question might be, why do you want your child to attend a mostly Black college?


Do you have something against integration?


If so, would you be OK with a mostly White college being in operation?


Or, is this very one sided?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

There are some excellent HBCUs, and there are some less stellar, just like non-HBCUs.  Like women's colleges, they appeal to students with certain goals.  My daughters thrived at Wesleyan and Agnes Scott.  Does that mean they are for every woman?  Of course not.


Students who have options go to colleges that somehow match up with them, where they feel challenged and yet, at home.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

There is a reason that folks went to court to get the "separate but equal" laws shot down - they were separate, not equal.


To cherry pick a few kids who have made it, while ignoring the many who have been failed by these institutions, is really disingenuous.  That's like saying because bill gates and some others didn't finish college, that most kids shouldn't attend.


The issue is quality.  And the justification for these schools continuing existence as predominantly black colleges doesn't exist.

Tcope
Tcope

Why do these schools even exist today? They were important institutions in the late 19th and early 20th century when higher education was separated by race. The public perceives these schools as second tier colleges that have lower standards to assist black kids in obtaining a degree. 

Those of you in Carrollton or Valdosta, take a walk around your local universties and observe the number of black students. These schools have a high percentage of black students that are not afraid of becoming part of mainstream American education.

Lexi3
Lexi3

None of those suggestions involves improving the quality of the education offered, only "selling" the "sizzle." Fact is, most HBCUs are academically inferior, and above average minority students can get treated like star athletes at mainstream universities with money to fill out their "diverse" student body profiles.

Starik
Starik

If Mr. Perkins' daughter could choose between Emory, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Spelman, which should she choose?  The best she can manage.  When she succeeds she'll know her own worth.  Segregated colleges are like segregated schools - separate and unequal.

gactzn2
gactzn2

HBCU's, in terms of number, do not compare to the number of  PWI's.  Let's look at some of the PWI's (predominantly white institutions) that are traditionally rejected, or deemed of less quality compared to others (research institution ratings).  These schools offer different things that meet different student's needs.  So much superficiality in today's society that we equate quality of learning with the name of the institution.  A Rhodes scholar from an HBCU vs a marginal graduate from Harvard.  Should be viewed on a case by case basis.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik 

What about the major colleges and universities that have been "segregated" by gender, the female-only schools?  I think that the best argument used for HBCUs as for female-only schools is that they provide a minority community where the student can feel accepted and nurtured by others within the community.  Women students have very often received the message that they are innately inferior and secondary in their intelligence to men. It can be valuable for them to have female professors as role-models and other female students as companions. The same can be true for African-American students.

Starik
Starik

@OriginalProf @Starik True, but not the case today.  Starting in the early 1970s the law schools, for example, started admitting good numbers of women, and as lawyers they have seen a success.  Isn't that the case in higher ed in general?  Aren't the single sex schools fading away?

Starik
Starik

@gactzn2 If you hire somebody from a school with a good academic reputation you have a better chance of hiring somebody who is smart (to get in) and well-trained (by better teachers.)  That includes Morehouse and Howard and some others. There are on absolutes, but these rankings aren't figments of somebody's imagination at U.S.News.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Starik @OriginalProf 

No.The Seven Sisters is a loose association of historically women's colleges that are considered Ivy League: Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar, and Wellesley.  Only Radcliffe and Vassar have gone co-ed.