Former Winston-Salem State University Chancellor and higher education consultant Alvin Schexnider writes for Inside Higher Education today about the diminishing prospects for some small-sized HBCUs – but his assessment may be less about how HBCUs can move into the future, and more about how institutions cling to the past.
Wikipedia lists at least 15 black colleges that have closed, including Leland College, Natchez College and Roger Williams College,” Schexnider writes. “Also, following the Flexner Report in 1910, five black medical schools closed — leaving two, Howard University Medical School and Meharry Medical College, until 1975, when the Morehouse School of Medicine was established. In short, closing HBCUs, often private ones, has happened before.”
But in recent years, several HBCUs have stopped or significantly reduced operations without formally announcing closure. Morris Brown College, among the more infamous campuses associated with HBCU closure rumors, remains formally in operation and enrolled 92 students this fall, according to a feature story in Diverse Issues in Higher Education. Students learn from a faculty body of 10 adjunct professors in three majors, and number of campus facilities are unsafe for use.
The school, which is not accredited and is not listed on the US Department of Education’s college scorecard, received a three-year federal grant in 2016 to increase HIV/AIDS awareness among college students in the region, but was at the center of controversy this fall when a Georgia Court of Appeals ordered the City of Atlanta to return land purchased from the college to neighboring HBCU Clark Atlanta University, which gifted the land to Morris Brown 75 years ago for educational purposes, and sued the city after the land purchase deal was finalized to help MBC satisfy debt obligations to the federal government and private lenders and vendors.
Other campuses without public awareness have suffered similar declines. Barber-Scotia College, which announced a temporary closing last January, reopened and attempted to lease its property to a startup university with a mission of enrolling college athletes.
Its website currently boasts online and three-year degree programs, homecoming celebrations and a basketball regular season schedule, but does not list an interim or permanent president, and its last institutional data is from the 2014-15 academic year.
Its last public record of enrollment figures was 12 students in 2016.
Knoxville College, a once-vibrant campus which today is more known for dilapidated buildings, fires and chemical contamination, remains authorized under state guidelines to conduct some business but is disallowed from enrolling students. It is not accredited, operates with a minimal amount of administration, but continues to galvanize support from alumni to one day reopen with new academic offerings.
A major consideration for these schools, and other HBCUs which will follow their lead in the next five years, will be the potential sale or repurposing of facilities and land after closing. Like Morris Brown, Barber-Scotia and Knoxville sit in areas spurred by increasing economic development and population growth. Concord, NC was named one of the nation’s fastest growing cities; a likely byproduct of similar growth in Charlotte.
- Population growth: Concord, 7th; Charlotte, 35th
- Job growth: Concord, 33rd; Charlotte, 24th
- Poverty rate decrease: Concord, 124th; Charlotte, 185th
- Regional GDP growth: Concord, 96th; Charlotte, same
- Growth in number of businesses: Concord, 1st; Charlotte, same
- Full-time jobs increase: Concord, 65th; Charlotte, 248th
- Working-age population growth: Concord, 13th; Charlotte, 59th
Economic growth throughout Tennessee was among the strongest in the nation, according to recent studies. While the land currently housing ghost HBCUs may no longer viable for the business of higher education, other cities and states like North Carolina are finding new life in the death of another municipal-dependent industry – corrections. From Governing.com:
October marked a turning point in a five-year effort to transform an abandoned prison in Wagram, N.C. Located about 35 miles southwest of Fayetteville, it’s on its way to becoming an environmentally friendly farm and education center for troubled teens and veterans. A group called Growing Change worked on the concept for several years, starting off as “polite squatters,” says the group’s founder Noran Sanford. Eventually, the program attracted the interest of state agencies, eight universities and a growing list of nonprofit organizations. They wanted to show that they could improve the lives of youth who were at risk of going to prison. The teenagers were recruited for key leadership positions and were involved in the design and operations of the facility. Researchers tracked how they did over five years, and found that the program was 92 percent effective in preventing them from going to prison. With that track record, North Carolina transferred control of 57 acres to Growing Change in March.
The group has big plans for the site in the years to come. It will build a climbing wall on an old guard tower, add onsite housing for veterans to mentor youth while working toward college degrees, and convert old cells into aquaponic tanks that raise fish and support the soil-free cultivation of crops. It will develop a museum about North Carolina’s use of work camps. The group is even working with Duke University and the Durham School of the Arts (a magnet school for 6th to 12th graders) to develop a virtual reality program to show people the current condition of the Wagram prison and how it will look if Growing Change successfully carries out its master plan.