In February, when Black Enterprise held its first HBCU Summit on the campus of Morgan State University, during the panel discussion Presidentially Speaking: Strategies for Sustaining Your Institution, moderator Beverly Daniel Tatum asked the panel of HBCU presidents if the political climate was increasing interest in historically black colleges.
Roslyn Artis, then president of Florida Memorial University, replied that 11 HBCUs had seen record enrollments last fall.
The trend has continued.
Earlier this week, I heard a report on NPR's Marketplace about how enrollment and applications are up at schools like Morgan, which this year welcomed its largest freshman class-1,250 students-in five years. And it's not just Morgan.
North Carolina A&T State University just welcomed the largest class in its history-2,300 students-it's been widely reported. Enrollment at Virginia State University is up nearly 50% in just two years, Marketplace reports. Applications at Spelman College numbered more than 8,000-from 5,000-plus two years ago-and this year the school received a record 47 transfer students, The Root reports, calling the phenomenon a black Renaissance.
According to The Root, "Top tier to bottom tier, HBCUs have seen double-digit increases in their freshman enrollments in the last two years: 49% at Shaw University, 22% at Dillard, 39% at Tuskegee, and 32% at South Carolina State."
And as other media outlets have noted, this upward trend is occurring while down.
Although in the Marketplace report Morgan President David Wilson attributed his school's spectacular growth to investments in the admissions process and the recruiting of more international students, there's no question that the political climate in the United States is also a factor.
"I think it's a combination of what's going on in the country that's negative," Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, is quoted as saying. "But it's also some positive things about really making sure that people know the value of an education at HBCUs."
Quality of life is a factor students and their families need to consider when selecting a college. Escalated racial tensions and hate crimes on predominantly white campuses would give most families pause.
Michael Lomax, president of UNCF, which represents 37 private HBCUs, says today's students are different from those of his generation, who may have been willing to endure slights and indignities.
"I think this new generation doesn't feel the same sense of obligation," he told Marketplace. "I think they just want to feel like this is their institution as much as it is anyone else's."