By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
As summer vacation draws to an end, thousands of college students are preparing to begin another year in the classroom.
Studies show that a large portion of African-American college students are bypassing Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs) and instead are enrolling in majority White institutions.
Only 20 percent of the nation’s Black college students attend the nation’s 105 HBCUs.
Thus, many of these schools are struggling financially as they fight through the obstacles facing them and define plans to market themselves and reverse the shortfall of students enrolled at them.
Morris Brown and St. Paul’s Colleges are two examples of HBCUs which have closed their doors. Norfolk State University, Virginia’s largest HBCU, noting a shortfall in projected freshmen student enrollment, may be forced to cut back on faculty seats and operations to adjust.
Alphonzo W. Knight, Sr. is a retired architectural engineer, college educator and administrator, who has served at his alma maters, Hampton University and Old Dominion University, working with alumni and students.
He said there are various reasons for HBCU enrollment woes, including lack of knowledge of, or respect for, the schools by parents and high school counselors who are tasked with helping high schoolers prepare and apply for college during their junior and senior years.
Further, he said, the reduction in the number of college-ready Black students attending many of the urban schools, as well as the soaring cost of post high school education via student loans have taken their toll.
Knight has made a contribution he thinks will aid in addressing and helping to resolve these issues.
Recently, he published a book “Historically Black Colleges and Universities: What You Should Know,” (341 pages, Xlibris Publication).
The book gives a history, historical information on locations, programs, enrollment, size and endowment, and notable graduates of the 105 HBCUs around the nation.
“I hope to have one of the books in every public and private high school around this country,” said Knight, who currently lives in Hampton. “Many high school counselors do not know about HBCUs, what they have to offer, the cost of attending them, and the fine job they do educating people for life and careers.
“If they read about these schools and their history and their successes, counselors and parents, I think, would be more willing to recommend to students to enroll in them” said Knight. “But we have to overcome the negative perceptions and rumors about HBCUs and the quality of the programs they offer and the students who attend them.”
Knight was also on the Board of Directors of CASE – Community Alliance for Special Education – which exposed him to most of the nation’s traditionally White colleges and universities. He has also visited all but two of the HBCUs.
“When I visited the HBCUs, I got to know the personnel, programs and the history of these schools,” said Knight. “Many Black and White high school students don’t even know an HBCU is in their state or may be nearby. I am hoping that the counselors and parents will use my book to educate themselves on the institutions and consider them as centers for higher education for their children.”
HBCUs are a mix of both private and state-funded colleges. Some were started by various church denominations or African-American middle class civic and business leaders, as in the case of NSU.
Most of the HBCUs, 103, are located in the southern states. Two were birthed before the Civil War: Cheyney State, the nation’s oldest HBCU, is located in Philadelphia; Wilberforce University in Ohio, was founded in 1856.
After the Civil War, the first and second Morrill Acts provided land grant colleges in each state and some funds for those which were set up exclusively to educate Blacks.
Some states in the West and North admitted Blacks, but most of the southern states prohibited the enrollment of Blacks at any of its schools which catered to Whites.
With most Blacks living in the South toward the end of the 19th century, the majority of the HBCUs were located in Dixie, east of the Mississippi River.
There are currently four HBCUs in Virginia, with Virginia Union being the oldest, and the NSU being the youngest. Alabama has 15; North Carolina has 10; Georgia, 9; and Mississippi 4.
Most are in good standing with their respective accrediting agencies. Twenty-seven of them offer doctoral programs; 52 graduate degree at the Master’s level; 83 offer Bachelor’s degree programs; and 38 of the schools provide associate degrees.
These schools still provide most of the Black college graduates. As of 2001, some 222,453 students were enrolled at HBCUs and most of that growth was due to the growth of women enrolling in large number.
“During Jim Crow, these schools provided a college education for many of America’s pioneering scientists, educators, sports figures and the law,” said Knight. “Students from these schools participated in the
Civil Rights Movement. Today, HBCUs must educate the community about their services and programs if they are going to compete. I hope my book will help achieve that goal.”