Quick Thought on NYT’s “H.B.C.U.s’ Sink-or-Swim Moment”

Recently, Delece Smith-Barrow wrote an interesting piece about the state of historically Black colleges and universities for the New York Times. I was widely read but I haven’t seen as much discussion as I thought it might generate. If you missed it here you go:

I am mentioned in the article based on a blog I posted several years ago for the Times that tied in the enrollment growth of HBCUs with popular culture, namely The Cosby Show and A Different World. I should also note that School Daze is also part of that era.

While articles over the past decade have predicted the demise of HBCUs, none have pointed out the most basic fact: Black students are disproportionately leaving higher education, and that impacts HBCU enrollment.

From 2010 to 2017, total higher education enrollment dropped 7.6%. For HBCUs it was only a little worse at 8.7%. But during that time black student enrollment dropped 16.2%, more than twice the national average. Fewer black students invariably impacts HBCU enrollment, but the emphasis on HBCUs misses the real crisis of fewer black students attending college.

In fact, The Chronicle of Higher Education’s 2019 Almanac had an article on this loss in Black student enrollment. Entitled, “Why Has Black Student-Enrollment Fallen?” they highlight the real issue that the Times piece misses. Here are some of the key points from the article:

[Black student enrollment] hit a peak in 2010 and has declined by more than 13 percent since then. Sixty-six percent of recent black high-school graduates enrolled in college in 2010. By 2017 that share had fallen to 58 percent.

The estimated number of black public-high-school graduates in the country has fallen by about 25,000 from 2010 to 2017, meaning the pool is smaller — but that is nowhere near the loss in enrollment of nearly 365,000 black college students over the same period.

In addition, HBCUs still are some of the most resilient mission-based institutions. In an interview with NPR in 2012 I said the following:

But the other that I have to bring up too is that HBCUs really have been very resilient too. So if you look at, for example, women’s colleges — and we don’t have this conversation — in 1960 there 267 women’s colleges. Today there are about 45. They’re only one percent — enroll only one percent of all women, and so there are a lot of them that have been going coed.

While the fragile HBCU narrative flourishes, we continue to ignore record income gaps, growing wealth disparities, and record low black home ownership which affect the ability of black families to send their children to college.

It’s time we explore the real issue, that black students are being left out of college, and what needs to be done to reverse this trend.

The Prez

Written by

7th president of Dillard University

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