The shifting demographics on HBCU campuses

A growing number of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities are making a push to attract non-African American students, in hopes of boosting enrollment and ensuring sustainability. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, non-African American students in 2017 made up some 24 percent of HBCUs’ student populations, compared with 15 percent in 1976.

Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, is one HBCU that has gone far in its efforts to diversify the university’s student body, according to The Baltimore Sun. While the number of Black students on campus has held steady since 2006—accounting for 79 percent of enrollment—white enrollment at Morgan has leapt by 30 percent, and Latinx enrollment has quadrupled from 60 students to 264. Asian and international student representation has increased as well. 

Positioning for future sustainability  

“HBCUs wisely are opening themselves up to students beyond the black community in order to remain sustainable,” Anthony Bradley, a professor at The King’s College in New York, told the Sun. “The ones who don’t do that are probably going to close.” 

Some HBCU alumni, however, have voiced concerns about the shifting demographics and their impact on HBCUs’ long and storied histories. They point, for instance, to institutions like Bluefield State in West Virginia, which was founded to educate the children of Black coal miners but now has a campus that is 85 percent white. 

However, Bradley says these changes are important to HBCUs’ future viability. “Is it going to change on-campus culture? Yes. Will it change some of their traditions? Yes. Will things be lost? Absolutely,” Bradley, who studies HBCUs, said. “But if they are going to survive, given the competition for African American students, they don’t have a choice to have a moral debate about whether this change is good or bad.”

Other administrators, meanwhile, point out the benefits of having a wide array of backgrounds and perspectives on campus. “We do believe that an educational experience that is diverse and has students from various ethnic and economic backgrounds is the richest kind of educational experience to afford students,” says Mickey L. Burnim, interim president of the Baltimore-based HBCU Coppin State University.

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