Why Black Empowerment Will Kill, Not Save HBCUs

A lot of black scholars and alumni of black colleges believe that there is a golden era coming for HBCUs thanks to Donald Trump and the social push against the extinction of white men as America’s power brokering class. But nothing about our consuming or political history suggests such a time is coming. In fact, we’re likely to make it worse sooner than later.

There are positive signs; more people are giving money to HBCUs and more students are attending our schools. From business perspectives, this bodes well for 100-plus campuses which are at the extreme ends of dramatic changes to higher education.


But racial tensions in cities and in the United States aren’t likely to fix this dissatisfaction by enrolling in HBCUs.

Total Black Student College Enrollment – 2011 through 2015

2011 – 2.01 Million

2012 – 1.93 Million

2013 – 1.88 Million

2014 – 1.83 Million

2015 – 1.77 Million

Total enrollment loss – 11.9 percent

Total Black Student HBCU Enrollment – 2011 through 2015

2011 – 263,435

2012 – 251,527

2013 – 241,485

2014 – 231,888

2015 – 228,263

Total enrollment loss – 13.3 percent

Think about the racial climate of the country over this given period. Police shootings of unarmed black citizens were thrust into the spotlight after the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin.

Unarmed People of Color Killed by Police, 1999-2014

On Wednesday, after the announcement that NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo would not be indicted for killing Eric Garner, the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund Twitter posted a series of tweets naming 76 men and women who were killed in police custody since the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo in New York.

Black students on predominantly white campuses around the country protested racial isolation and cultural antagonism, creating negative outcomes for schools like the University of Missouri.

Long After Protests, Students Shun the University of Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In the fall of 2015, a grassy quadrangle at the center of the University of Missouri became known nationwide as the command center of an escalating protest. Students complaining of official inaction in the face of racial bigotry joined forces with a graduate student on a hunger strike.

But HBCUs over the same period have grown in their exposure for successes and stories beyond the norm of band hazing, sexual assault and administrative struggle. Largely pioneered by this website, black colleges have found new analysis of their research and value to communities around the country.

And yet, as far as the most recent data tells us, black student enrollment loss at HBCUs outpaces the same at predominantly white schools by two percent, during a period when society all but tells us we aren’t wanted in the streets, in the White House or on campus.

Black students, adult learners underrepresented on campus

The Boston Globe – as part of a major “Spotlight” investigation into racism in Boston’s major institutions – found that black student enrollment at the city’s 10 largest universities hovers around 5%, almost unchanged since 1980. When asked about the lack of diversity, officials at Boston’s colleges and universities cite an increased number of international students, which has exploded in the last decade.

History, extending back to the Civil Rights Movement, suggests that anti-black sentiment doesn’t drive us to build our own communities. It spurs our desire to integrate others. Population trends show black people with education and the ability to earn high salaries are leaving traditional black metropolitan enclaves.

Black flight to the suburbs on the rise

While much attention is correctly given to alleviating the persisting segregation of blacks in many American cities, it is also important to recognize a newly emergent shift to the suburbs among blacks from major cities with established black populations. Black population losses have been occurring in some cities since the 1970s.

Studies which are redefining the way lawmakers and industries look at college training show that many of these cities are steadily increasing the number of jobs and careers where college degrees (and the associated debt) aren’t necessary to make decent living wages.

Good Jobs Data | The Good Jobs Project

Explore the 30 million good jobs for workers without bachelor’s degrees using our interactive tool. Do men have more good jobs than women? Has the share of good jobs held by Whites increased over time? What are the wages of good jobs in different industries and occupations?

Other studies showcase why selective institutions like Ivy League and state flagship PWIs should do more to enroll and to finance black students coming to their campuses.


And the campuses are paying attention.

More Than 30 Top PWIs Just Joined Forces to Recruit Students Away from HBCUs

Hampton University President William Harvey presented at Yale University earlier this month about the continuing value of historically black colleges and universities in educating the nation’s growing minority population.

And in typical fashion, you would be hard pressed to find any HBCU president or prominent graduate discussing this data. In fact, it stands to reason that the few times we do hear from our leaders it is to present a false bill of goods, or to revisit the value of HBCUs in the deceased idea of black identity politics, or to ramble about misrepresentations of the culture which mean little in the broader space of growth vs. survival vs. extinction.



A lot of people are optimistic about the chances for HBCUs to survive. I agree that we need them. I just don’t think the numbers or our culture indicate that it will turn out the way we think it will.

Matthias Browder-Gorham is a higher education consultant based in Washington D.C.

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