HBCUs working to bring back students with some credits but no degree

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the nation are mobilizing in an effort to re-enroll students who have earned some, but not all, of the credits needed for a college degree.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 5 million of the nation’s Black adults ages 25 and older have partially completed college. Higher education experts say that number is poised to climb following the financial and educational disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected Black Americans.

UNCF seeking to bring back 4,000 students

To help so-called “stopped-out” students find their way back to HBCUs—institutions that saw a 5-7 percent decline in enrollment this academic year—the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) has launched a new initiative focused on personalized outreach and coaching. UNCF, which represents 37 private HBCUs, hopes to re-enroll 4,000 students who paused their studies in the last two years.

“When we started to think about not only the immediate crisis response but the long-term effect of such a pandemic, we knew that we would experience some drop in enrollment,” said Ed Smith-Lewis, executive director of UNCF’s Institute for Capacity Building. The new initiative, he says, seeks to “ensure that our students feel comfortable and safe and continue their quest to get that first college credential.” It also will serve as a pilot project, allowing UNCF to gather data on why students pause their education—and the potential for re-enrollment education to help.

Related: New online program at Morehouse offers path to degree for Black men with some credits >

Specifically, UNCF will reach out to students who left one of nine historically or predominantly Black institutions located in the southeast. Through a partnership with the nonprofit organization InsideTrack, students will receive up to four months of one-on-one coaching. Coaches will advise students on topics such as creating academic plans, securing financial aid, balancing competing obligations, arranging for child care, and more.

That wraparound support “falls in line with what HBCUs are known for—providing this really supportive environment and really meeting students where they are, really understanding the cultural background of students,” Robert Palmer, chair of educational leadership and policy studies at Howard University, told Inside Higher Ed. “Most of all it says to those students…that we as administrators see you. We recognize you and we’re here for you.”

Public HBCUs offer financial incentives, advising resources

While the UNCF pilot will include only private HBCUs, public HBCUs also are taking steps to reach stopped-out students. North Carolina-based Fayetteville State University is offering incentives like free room and board and partial scholarships to students who re-enroll. Delaware State University, meanwhile, is partnering with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund on a “Near Completer” program that provides academic advising to help students finish their degree.

Baltimore-based Morgan State University, which for years has had a re-enrollment program offering scholarships and advising to students who stopped out, recently approved plans for a new program that will help those students earn college credentials. The program’s 18 new undergraduate and advanced degrees will position graduates for work in growing fields such as cybersecurity.

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