While colleges and universities nationwide have struggled to enroll students over the past several years, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are seeing a significant increase in application volume and enrollment of Black students.
In the past eight years alone, the number of Black student applications has increased by a staggering 138 percent. The primary drivers impacting this pattern in increased enrollments may surprise you.
Shifting Demographics of Students Attending College
Prior to the pandemic, a tectonic shift was taking place in higher education. The number of Black students enrolling in college was outshining the enrollment of middle-class, white students. During the pandemic, that trend was exacerbated by the racial justice movement that began in May 2020. Social media played a hand in students viewing HBCUs as an avenue to support their increased need for psychological safety in pursuing their post-secondary goals.
Since then, many institutions received an influx of funding that has enabled HBCUs to revamp their infrastructure to recruit students, particularly as it relates to how they interact and connect with students. Additionally, the social and racial incidents highlighted within the media have influenced Black students to have a stronger connection to their Black identity, making attending an HBCU that much more substantial.
HBCUs Embody a Culture of Inclusivity
Black students, along with students from other historically marginalized communities, are gravitating toward institutions where they are seen, accepted, and feel safe and comfortable in their learning environment. From a cultural perspective, HBCUs put a significant emphasis on creating and fostering a culture of inclusivity and learning at their institutions. What’s more, many influential HBCU alumni have been vocal about their college journey and experience, endorsing the many benefits of belonging at their institution, where they thrive both academically and socially.
Take Deion Sanders, aka “Prime Time,” head football coach at Jackson State and a former NFL player who has expressed the value of Black college athletes attending like-minded institutions where they intrinsically fit in. Having his endorsement is vital to attracting college athletes, and ultimately ties back to the overdue recognition HBCUs have recently received.
Black students have noted the difference between attending predominantly white institutions (PWI) versus HBCUs; they don’t have to think twice about whether they belong, and they can instead focus on finding their group of friends within a network of students with similar backgrounds and shared experiences.
Innovative and Equitable Courseware Designed for Black Learners
Historically, by default, academic courseware has been created to meet the needs of the general student population of predominantly white, middle-class students. As college enrollment has shifted, many edtech companies have embraced the opportunity to better reach and teach historically marginalized students, and some are partnering with HBCUs to design new, innovative courseware centered around equity. Edtech firms need to continually think about how different environments affect students, provide support by understanding systemic disadvantages Black students have experienced over time, and intentionally co-create solutions with these students.
Looking Forward to Creating Equity for All
There is an enormous opportunity for tech companies to strengthen their own role in understanding all the students they serve, and to recruit and hire employees with diverse backgrounds. We can take a page out of Adobe’s digital handbook as they partner with HBCUs to expand their talent pipeline by providing learning and career opportunities to Black students to achieve equitable digital tech and creativity skills.
Moving forward, we also need to look at HBCUs as the experts in serving Black students. Data suggests that they are retaining and graduating more Black students than most non-HBCUs. This is not by chance, and they deserve that recognition, along with increased funding and resources to continue to play a significant role in educating, understanding, and creating opportunities for the students they serve. I believe this is only the beginning of creating equity for all.
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