HBCUs Grapple With Uncertainty

Historically black colleges and universities—once the only higher education option for black students before the civil rights era—struggle to survive amid decreases in student enrollment and accreditation problems.

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Student walking on the grounds of Morris Brown College in Atlanta

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Dipping rates of student enrollment have placed the future of HBCUs in jeopardy.

For generations, these institutions of higher education have played an instrumental role in educating black students, especially first-generation college students and low-income students. But in the last 20 years, five of them have shuttered their doors, and a dozen others have dealt with shaky accreditation, the Associated Press reports.

South Carolina State University, that state’s only public HBCU, saw its accreditation placed on hold last month for financial issues.

And 133-year-old Morris Brown College in Atlanta filed for bankruptcy and received court permission to sell off some of its property.

Elizabeth City State University—a public HBCU that saw its enrollment decline by 900 students over three years—was saved from a merger with another North Carolina institution last month after supporters’ objections led to intervention by the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, according to AP.

A breadth of university and college options for black students may be driving the steady drop in enrollment at HBCUs. Currently, only 11 percent of black college students choose to enroll at the predominantly black institutions, notes AP.

And low rates of alumni-giving at HBCUs certainly doesn’t help—only 10 percent, on average, give back.

Marybeth Gasman, an expert on historically black colleges and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explained that the financial hardship HBCUs encounter is due in part to states’ reluctance to fund them because they are considered segregated—even though a number of public universities skew white and can be less integrated than HBCUs.

In fact, 1 in 4 students attending a historically black institution are Hispanic, Asian American, white or of another ethnicity, according to AP.

Abdul S. Rasheed, a member of Elizabeth City State’s board of trustees, said the future and survival of HBCUs lies on the shoulders of their graduates and supporters.

“If nothing changes, they will eliminate them,” Rasheed said, reports AP. “That will be the biggest mistake this country has ever made.”

Read more at the Houston Chronicle.

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