Rising Enrollment at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Undergraduate enrollment in colleges and universities across the United States dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a total two-year decline of 4.2% after 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. But for the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the country, applications have increased nearly 30%, with many serving as a first choice for college-bound students.
The increased interest in HBCUs has also been apparent among Friend Select students. In her two decades at Friends Select, director of college planning Tracy Matthews has supported 14 alumni in their acceptance and enrollment at HBCUs. In addition, five students from the class of 2023 have applied to a cumulative six HBCUs to date. Last spring, Tracy presented on the history and benefits of attending HBCUs to Friends Select’s Black Student Union and outlined for students the demographics of such schools, trends in enrollment and factors that influence them, and why students choose HBCUs.
Catalysts for the increased enrollment have included the calls for racial justice and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. “I think there is a connection with what is happening in society, combined with our Black students’ lived experience of being Black in white America, which would influence their desire to attend an HBCU,’’ Tracy reflected. “Students want to be in a place where their culture and experience are understood, and not the minority but rather the majority.”
Although Nyasia Arrington ’20 applied to local colleges like the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University, attending an HBCU was her priority. “I definitely knew when it came down to which school I was going to pick of the schools I got accepted to, my top choice was going to be an HBCU,” Nyasia explained. “After attending a predominantly white school for nine years, I really wanted to be surrounded by people who look like me.” Nyasia is currently majoring in elementary education at Morgan State University, a Baltimore-based HBCU that reported a historic-high 58% increase in undergraduate applications in 2021 compared to 2019.
Private philanthropy and federal funding for HBCUs in recent years has also brought attention to these schools. In 2020, MacKenzie Scott, author, philanthropist, and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, donated more than $400 million to HBCUs. And as part of the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans, the Biden-Harris administration reported last year nearly $6 billion in cumulative investments to HBCUs, including $500 million in grant funding to help HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) expand their capacities.
Prospective students are also attracted to HBCUs because of the positive outcomes for graduates and preparation for navigating professional life in White America. “In my research, HBCUs accelerate Black entrepreneurship and professional leadership. HBCUs also increase Black upward economic mobility historically,” Tracy explained. “There is a stronger sense of support and mentorship Black students experience at HBCUs over that at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Not only are HBCUs known for having great career planning and networking opportunities, they also have strong alumni networks that help lift up the younger generation.”
Nyasia is building relationships as a member of FUTURE (Females United to Uplift, Reshape, and Educate), a campus group “dedicated to establishing a sisterly bond through community service, uplifting the campus, reshaping the world, and educating the community by any means necessary.” As a junior, she is already teaching in a kindergarten classroom and is experiencing the network afforded to her by Morgan. “Students at HBCUs get a lot of opportunities, especially from other people of color who are looking for other people of color to work with them,” she said.
Since Friends Select launched its strategic plan, Advance Friends Select, the school’s college planning office has simultaneously grown. In the past six years, the college planning office added an associate director of college planning, more targeted programming, and an increase in intentional college counseling. Now the office is more prepared than ever to recommend college “matches” to all upper class students, which includes appropriate HBCU and PWI matches for Black students.
Friends Select alumni have attended the following HBCUs in the past 20 years:
- Delaware State University
- Hampton University
- Howard University
- Lincoln University
- Morehouse College
- Morgan State University
- Xavier University of Louisiana