Enrollment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities has fallen to a 20-year low, according to a federal data report. In 2019, the number of students enrolled at HBCUs decreased to 289,507, marking more than 2,400 fewer students from the previous school year.
HBCUs have played and continue to play a key role in graduating leaders across all professions and industries, while remaining beacons of tradition in the Black community.
HBCUs saw a peak in enrollment in 2010 and 2011, with about 327,000 students choosing between the nation’s 101 HBCUs.
A 2019 study by the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions at Rutgers University found that “while HBCUs enroll more low-income students than competing colleges, nearly 70 percent of HBCU students end up with at least middle class incomes.” Twenty-seven percent of Black students with STEM degrees are HBCU alumni, and twenty percent of all Black graduates come from HBCUs.
The student loan debt crisis, however, has disproportionately impacted graduates of HBCUs, with alumni taking on 32 percent more debt than students at other colleges, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. The coronavirus pandemic also curbed enrollment across all colleges in the US according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.
To combat a lack of state and federal funding for HBCUs, alumni, advocates, and donors have raised funds and supported programs at these historic institutions in recent years, aiming to help many schools’ financial situations and open pathways for students that include less debt at the end.
“There is a distinct possibility that a number of HBCUs could cease to exist in 20 years or so,” Ronnie Bagley, a retired Army colonel and 1983 graduate of Norfolk State University told NBC News in March 2020. “If that were to occur, many low income, first generation students will lose out on an opportunity for a college education.”
“That’s scary because HBCUs have been the bedrock of producing some of the most successful and influential contributors in all facets of society, including business, government, military, arts and entertainment,” Bagley added. “You name it.”
While the data doesn’t point to a single source behind the drop in enrollment, experts say a combination of lower retention and graduation rates paired with a misconception about these institutions and the appeal of online colleges fueled decreases in enrollment.
Amid national discussions on race and a reckoning of America's history seen last year during months-long protests against police brutality and calls for racial justice, some believe enrollment will increase in the coming years. Those conversations have sparked ongoing movements to enrich HBCU sports programs with top recruits and center the institutions that shaped leaders that pushed for monumental change across generations.
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