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HBCU Enrollment Up 57% Nationally As Top Students Embrace Sense Of Belonging


An embrace of Blackness is in part to account for rising enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), according to Dillard University president Dr. Rochelle Ford and other observers.

Meanwhile, non-HBCU U.S. colleges and universities saw a drop of 1.1 percent of undergraduate students between the fall of 2021 and 2022. This comes on the heels of a historic decline that began in the fall of 2020; over two years, more than 1 million fewer students enrolled in college, NPR reported.

But some HBCUs are seeing the opposite. Dillard, for example, had 1,252 students in September 2022, up from 1,213 students a year earlier.

“Some of our students are still your 18- to 21-year-olds, but many also are working full time,” Ford told Diverse. “Some of them are parents. The valedictorian in the cohort that just graduated, one of our top students, was a working mother in that online and evening program. Many students need that greater flexibility. And we are accommodating the whole student.”

And, many students are going to HBCUs, such as Dillard, because they consider HBCUs to be safe and inspiring spaces.

“Those who identify as Black Americans are grappling with 17 years, 18 years of what it has meant to grow up Black in the United States,” Dr. Michelle Purdy, an education professor and researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, told Diverse. “They were learning about a Black president in daycare, in pre-K and kindergarten and lower school. They have felt that sense of pride, of promise. These kids also have come [of] age with Trayvon, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor.”

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South Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, Prairie View A&M University and Howard University have seen a spike in enrollment, Diverse reported.

Virginia State University has welcomed its largest group of incoming students in fall 2022, the largest in more than 30 years. More than 1,700 new students, a 550-student increase over 2021, BET reported.

The Black enrollment at HBCUs boost can be traced back to 1976. Between then and 2020, Black student enrollment at HBCUs increased 11 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Between 1976 and 2010, there was a 57 percent rise in the overall number of HBCU students. About a quarter of HBCU students are not Black.

“Some want to attribute these increases to politics and to what is a particularly hostile environment in this country right now,” Dr. Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, told BET. “African American and Latino students want to be in safer, more nurturing places. But, for us and other campuses, there has always been a significant number of students who’ve been passionate about being in this space, about being at an HBCU.” Sorrell was ranked No. 34 on Fortune’s 2018 list of The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders.

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