Challenges Facing Historically Black Colleges and Universities in America

Historically Black Colleges and Universities originated in the post-Civil War era and, up until 1964, were the only schools of higher education that a person of color could attend. Today, they are facing more challenges than ever, including:

  • Financial difficulties
  • Poor leadership
  • Declining enrollment numbers
  • Declining retention and graduation rates

Grant and Loan Program Changes

Up until 2011, Pell Grants had covered up to 18 semesters; now they cover only 12. Many HBCU students take longer to finish their studies, so this change had a significant impact on enrollment and retention and graduation rates. The HBCUs also suffer financially due to the lower enrollment numbers. According to Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, about 85% of HBCU students usually graduate in six years and count on those grants to make it through.

Eligibility for Parent Plus loans has also been tightened by the federal government. These loans were utilized by many HBCU students and their families to pay for their education, and HBCU leaders have deemed it a “crisis” that limits these students access to higher education.

Another rule that HBCUs were exempt from is that colleges who have a high default rate lose federal financial aid. As of this year, however, that exemption has been lifted, and HBCUs are now losing that financial aid, as well. Less money makes it more difficult to hire and retain good professors.

More opportunities for black Americans is another part of the problem for HBCUs, because they have been able to attend other colleges since the landmark desegregation decision in 1964. This has contributed to lower enrollment numbers as well.

Enrollment Declines

The following schools are among many who have experienced enrollment declines. The numbers for these schools range from 7% to a massive 25% less students in attendance:

  • Cheyney University in Pennsylvania
  • Texas Southern University
  • Lincoln University of Pennsylvania
  • Florida A&M University

Public HBCUs cannot sustain their revenues due to these declines.

The Future

According to Edward Fort, president emeritus of North Carolina A&T State University, discussion of future survival has increased dramatically in just the last few years. Fort believes that HBCUs must become more aggressive in their funding searches and should include not just federal funding, but also corporate and philanthropic sources.

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