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Freshman Enrollment at HBCU’s Increase

Freshman enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities has been increasing in recent years. This August, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical University in Greensboro welcomed 2,309 freshmen, the largest first-year class in the Black institution’s history, according to the school, bringing its total of number of students to 11,877.

Marybeth Gasman, the Judy and Howard Berkowitz Professor of Education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said the uptick in the number of freshmen has been a trend since 2012. The official enrollment numbers for this school year have yet to be released.

Gasman, who has studied HBCUs, recalled the last time she saw so much interest in the institutions.“It was during the time when ‘A Different World’ was on TV, there was a surge in enrollment at HBCUs,” Gasman said of the sitcom about the fictional Black, Hillman College that aired from 1987 to 1993. “It made people interested in going to one.”However, she said overall enrollment declined from 2012 to 2015.

“The retention has not been as strong,” said Gasman, also the director of the Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions. “Part of that was some fallout from the Parent PLUS loan that took place under the Obama administration.”

On Sunday’s PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton on MSNBC, Morgan State Professor Jason Johnson said there are a number of reasons why more incoming students are interested in Black colleges.

“There’s a lot of different factors that have pushed to this. It’s really been happening for the last two years,” Johnson said. “North Carolina A&T, Howard, Morgan State, Johnson C. Smith, Fisk, Tuskegee — all these [universities] are seeing 20, 30 sometimes 50 percent increases in their incoming classes.”

Referencing it as an “HBCU renaissance,” Johnson said the factors include who is in political power; HBCUs becoming more innovative with finances, talking to families of ninth- and tenth-grade high school students, and not depending on government spending; and life in the Black Lives Matter/Colin Kaepernick era.

Students “want to be in a more comfortable environment,” Johnson said. “I mean, why do I want to spend $60,000 a year to go on a campus where people are going to spray paint Trump on my door, where they’re going to deface Black fraternity houses. Who wants to spend all that money to live in a dorm named after a slave owner?”

However, Johnny Taylor, president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said the 3 percent increase in enrollment at HBCUs has been driven by a 27 percent increase in Latino/Hispanic students and a 26 percent increase in international students at Black institutions.

“This idea that somehow Black students are coming back [to HBCUs] or are not interested in attending [predominately white institutions], that is not factually based,” Taylor said. “It’s based on the large Hispanic and international growth, and two, [HBCUs] got really smart and improved their enrollment management.”

Gasman said one can’t make a scientific correlation between higher freshman enrollment and the current racial or political climate.“What I have seen is that there is a lot of talk among African Americans, parents and students, about the environment at PWIs being non-supportive of African Americans,” said Gasman.

She’s also receiving more inquiries from parents both by phone and through social media, asking whether they should send their children to HBCUs.

Chad Lassiter, a professor of race relations and president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc., said HBCUs have always been thought of as viable options for Black and brown students.

“I think it’s a multitude of things,” Lassiter said about the increase in freshmen at HBCUs. “It’s not about ‘coming back home.’ Going to Morehouse [College] simply doesn’t protect you.”Lassiter, a 1994 graduate of Johnson C. Smith, said he wants all colleges, including PWIs, to not engage in hate or display intolerance of students of color or others.

“We’re seeing greater community outreach efforts and efforts to tell the narrative of HBCUs,” he said. “I want young people to realize [HBCUs] are a rich tradition.”Gasman said some colleges are capitalizing, in a good way, on urging students to attend HBCUs.

“If I was African American and had an African-American child, I would definitely be thinking about this,” Gasman said. “I made sure my daughter went to a racially diverse college. I think that most parents want their child to be safe and in an environment that is respectful.”

Source: Philly Tribune / Ryanne Persinger

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