Last week, Concordia College of Alabama became the third HBCU in the last three years to close either temporarily or on a permanent basis. But the story of the college’s demise isn’t exclusively found in how many students it couldn’t enroll, how its programs weren’t aligned with Selma’s industrial needs, or how the few people outside of the southeast who even knew the college existed didn’t realize it was in trouble.
The story of Concordia’s death and other HBCUs like Barber-Scotia College, Knoxville College, and Saint Paul’s College starts with the look at the cities surrounding the campus.
If a city is under financial duress, it should tell you something about the economic pain one of its largest employers must be feeling. Concordia was not without community resonance in Selma, even with just 400 students. From a Selma Times-Journal editorial:
The men’s and women’s basketball teams both won a national championship for the 2016-17 season. The soccer team is a diverse unit with players from around the world who came to Selma to play ball while earning their education. The student body had enough school pride to compete against HBCUs from across the nation to raise money for their school. CCA students rallied their campus and local supporters to help them win the Ford Strive to Greatness contest. The students took it upon themselves to help raise money for the college and won $50,000 for finishing in second place in the contest.
But what you don’t see in this editorial is panic around a revenue-producing nonprofit business shutting its doors. It would be easy to assume that Selma would have little love lost for a tiny HBCU going out of business, but Selma’s civic leadership knows just how big of a loss this closure really is, and what it truly symbolizes.
So pervasive is poverty in Alabama that the United Nations cited the state as the “worst in the developed world.”
In Selma, 41 percent of residents live in poverty with demographics comprised of a growing black population and a fast-dwindling white population.
A college can’t thrive in a city that is dying. Students and faculty will not desire to live, learn or work in a degraded area. Donors can’t visualize their dollars transforming the community. And federal dollars won’t find their way to areas where there is no guarantee of a return on investment.
So it is not surprising that Concordia is one of the first HBCUs to shut down in a decade where the sector could lose up to 50 percent of its institutions. What is most surprising is how saddened and shocked were are by its demise, when we can’t even see all of the factors involved in its extinction.
And what’s worse, other campuses and HBCU cities are suffering a similar fate, and we don’t even see it coming.