HBCU Enrollment: A Question of Money vs. Mission

The Florida Times-Union today reported a 20 percent increase in enrollment for Edward Waters College in Jacksonville. The news is the latest good news for the college, which under President Nat Glover has experienced new gains in fundraising, awareness and now the number of students on campus.

Edward Waters attributes its enrollment spike to a higher-than-normal acceptance rate among freshmen, and new awareness of EWC’s Credentials for Leadership in Management and Business program. While EWC may find itself on new and better ground with its growth, there is a rising debate about how rapid enrollment affects black college campuses in the short and long-term.

Edward Waters has a long way to go before the integrity of its academic and social programming is stretched, but for other HBCUs, there’s a fine line of raising enrollment revenues against providing the best service across the spectrum of the HBCU experience. Are the HBCUs with enrollments between 4,000-8,000 better served with student enrollment approaching and exceeding 10,000 students, if ballooning student-to-professor ratios sacrifice proper nurturing for those students?

Are record-breaking numbers in freshman class admits a good thing, if the college will be criticized annually for a lack of housing options, student technology resources or research opportunities?

Does an increase in enrollment mean a decrease in attrition, or a greater threat for such? And what about the graduation rates in the five years following the largest incoming class of freshmen in school history?

Growing enrollment is a necessary and productive goal, but how many HBCUs are doing it responsibly enough to ensure the best living and learning environment for their students and work environment for faculty? When it comes to building HBCU capacity, are we better focusing on the allocation of resources through heightened enrollment, or maintaining smaller enrollment to ensure the better management of resources on hand?