North Carolina’s five public historically Black institutions are now cleared to increase admissions for out-of-state students by seven percent, thanks to the University of North Carolina System’s Board of Governors’ approval of an HBCU-backed proposal. From the Greensboro News & Record:
The UNC Board of Governors approved Thursday a plan to raise the out-of-state admissions cap for the two Triad schools and the state’s three other public historically black colleges and universities.
That cap has been set at 18% for more than three decades across most of the UNC System to ensure the majority of seats at the state’s public universities are set aside for North Carolina residents. The board’s vote Thursday raises the cap to 25% for new out-of-state freshmen at North Carolina’s five public HBCUs.
Higher education officials cited success among the HBCUs within a four-year pilot program extending the cap as a catalyst for the policy change, with North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Elizabeth City State University, and Winston-Salem State University. Fayetteville State University was the lone HBCU to remain below the previous 18% threshold.
Increased or stable enrollment at NCAT and NCCU has helped both schools to put cranes in the sky for glittering new facilities and to create and market competitive degree programs. Increased student athletic fees have helped both schools to become nationally regarded mid-major programs in revenue-bearing sports.
Pairing these gains with new state-funded scholarship initiatives has made both schools more attractive for high-achieving students, and supported both schools’ efforts to expand funded research and development.
ECSU, WSSU, and FSU have also proven to be recently and relatively stable, despite legislative efforts to rebrand the universities under new names and bargain bin tuition rates.
There’s good news for HBCUs in North Carolina today. And that’s why this should be looked at with a discerning and critical eye because everything in North Carolina’s recent and generational history suggests that very few things are ever done for the good of HBCUs in the Tar Heel state.
In February, the handling of Fayetteville State’s chancellor search was national news and is currently still simmering among Bronco supporters in Fayetteville and beyond. The new rule on nearly non-existent executive searches that helped Darrell Allison into the chancellor’s role was piloted at Elizabeth City State in 2018 when current chancellor Karrie Dixon went from state system working group head to campus CEO in less than a year.
That policy is still in place and waiting for the retirement or dismissal of chancellors within the next five years at three of the state’s five HBCUs.
Economic development is happening all around ECSU without actually including the region’s historically Black four-year institution, while East Carolina University is just two years removed from laying the groundwork to poach significant parts of the school’s aviation program.
The best way to look at what’s in store for HBCUs in North Carolina, or in any state, is to actually look away from those campuses and to look at what’s happening at the public predominantly white institutions. Here’s a report from UNC Chapel Hill published last month.
In fall 2020, the University enrolled its biggest undergraduate class ever: 5,303 students (4,444 first year and 859 transfer students) from a record number of 47,607 applicants. Carolina’s current undergraduate headcount enrollment of 19,395 continues a steady upward trend that began in 2015.
The first step in increasing enrollment is wanting to increase enrollment, and Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz “wanted to make sure we welcomed enough people,” especially low-income and first-generation applicants, Feldman said. “That’s the core of who Carolina is.”
Due to the pandemic’s impact on the economy, fewer low-income and first-generation students applied, so that meant the Admissions staff had to work even harder on retention. Feldman recalled a conversation a compassionate staff member had with a Carolina Covenant scholar who was considering dropping out after three weeks of remote learning.
With relaxed admission requirements, increased retention efforts, and more aggressive recruitment of low-income and minority students, the state’s flagship and other public PWIs will look to admit large numbers of students to offset losses stacked up during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. How many of these students will actually be able to afford school, even in an improving job market, as the nation continues a post-pandemic economic rebound?
It also helps to take a look at where lawmakers are actually willing to spend money within state budgets. Governor Roy Cooper’s proposed HBCU funding highlights include $5 million to support doctoral research at NCAT, $7.5 million in support to all other HBCUs and UNC-Pembroke, $15 million in subsidizing funds for the NC Promise program which includes ECSU, and $1.5 million for security upgrades at NC Central.
In contrast, North Carolina’s community colleges are targeted for $25 million in career development funding for career and technical programs targeting students in the same student pool where HBCUs commonly fish for full-time prospects.
The UNC System is allowing its five HBCUs to recruit more out-of-state students, while at the same time empowering larger, better-resourced PWIs and community colleges to siphon minority students away who are born and raised in North Carolina or beyond its borders. It has changed policies to essentially pick HBCU leaders without input from campuses, which will dictate how beneficial policies are implemented, and how harmful policies will be countered.
Economy throughout the state is set to explode as the clock winds down on the nation’s coronavirus response, but how much economic development includes or even considers the HBCUs which power job creation, research expenditures, tourism, retail revenues, and real estate development?
Today was a good day for North Carolina HBCUs, but there have been enough bad days, weeks, months, and years to sharpen the cynicism that can cut through policy like this to find a distraction from other major issues that need an immediate resolution to truly support the state’s Black colleges.