A lot of black scholars and alumni of black colleges believe that there is a golden era coming for HBCUs thanks to Donald Trump and the social push against the extinction of white men as America’s power brokering class. But nothing about our consuming or political history suggests such a time is coming. In fact, we’re likely to make it worse sooner than later.
There are positive signs; more people are giving money to HBCUs and more students are attending our schools. From business perspectives, this bodes well for 100-plus campuses which are at the extreme ends of dramatic changes to higher education.
But racial tensions in cities and in the United States aren’t likely to fix this dissatisfaction by enrolling in HBCUs.
Total Black Student College Enrollment – 2011 through 2015
2011 – 2.01 Million
2012 – 1.93 Million
2013 – 1.88 Million
2014 – 1.83 Million
2015 – 1.77 Million
Total enrollment loss – 11.9 percent
Total Black Student HBCU Enrollment – 2011 through 2015
2011 – 263,435
2012 – 251,527
2013 – 241,485
2014 – 231,888
2015 – 228,263
Total enrollment loss – 13.3 percent
Think about the racial climate of the country over this given period. Police shootings of unarmed black citizens were thrust into the spotlight after the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin.
Black students on predominantly white campuses around the country protested racial isolation and cultural antagonism, creating negative outcomes for schools like the University of Missouri.
But HBCUs over the same period have grown in their exposure for successes and stories beyond the norm of band hazing, sexual assault and administrative struggle. Largely pioneered by this website, black colleges have found new analysis of their research and value to communities around the country.
And yet, as far as the most recent data tells us, black student enrollment loss at HBCUs outpaces the same at predominantly white schools by two percent, during a period when society all but tells us we aren’t wanted in the streets, in the White House or on campus.
History, extending back to the Civil Rights Movement, suggests that anti-black sentiment doesn’t drive us to build our own communities. It spurs our desire to integrate others. Population trends show black people with education and the ability to earn high salaries are leaving traditional black metropolitan enclaves.
Studies which are redefining the way lawmakers and industries look at college training show that many of these cities are steadily increasing the number of jobs and careers where college degrees (and the associated debt) aren’t necessary to make decent living wages.
Other studies showcase why selective institutions like Ivy League and state flagship PWIs should do more to enroll and to finance black students coming to their campuses.
And the campuses are paying attention.
And in typical fashion, you would be hard pressed to find any HBCU president or prominent graduate discussing this data. In fact, it stands to reason that the few times we do hear from our leaders it is to present a false bill of goods, or to revisit the value of HBCUs in the deceased idea of black identity politics, or to ramble about misrepresentations of the culture which mean little in the broader space of growth vs. survival vs. extinction.
A lot of people are optimistic about the chances for HBCUs to survive. I agree that we need them. I just don’t think the numbers or our culture indicate that it will turn out the way we think it will.
Matthias Browder-Gorham is a higher education consultant based in Washington D.C.