Historically Black colleges and universities are facing serious enrollment and economic issues that could significantly impact the future of the specialized institutions of higher learning, according to a top administrator at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) in Trenton.
Monica Weaver, dean and provost at MCCC said HBCUs are in trouble and may be losing their luster to contemporary African American high school students. Weaver said her school currently participates in a program that enables students at MCCC to take courses that count toward credits toward earning a degree from Tuskegee University—a historically black college in Alabama. “It’s no secret that historically Black colleges and universities are in trouble—financially and for enrollment numbers,” Weaver said. “Through programs like ours, students are able to work toward getting a degree from an HBCU.”
Weaver and several other educators participated in the first annual education conference hosted by the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (AACCNJ) in late February at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. More than 100 people attended the daylong event that featured panel discussions and a networking reception. Executive coach and author Diane Tracy delivered the keynote address that highlighted the critical role parents have in a child’s education.
The conference comes at a pivotal time, as education continues to be at the forefront of major discussions on both the national and local level. For example, a report released by Carnegie Communications in Massachusetts—a higher educational and marketing consulting firm– revealed that interest among attending HBCU’s has been on the decline among African American high school students for several years. The study showed that while the number of African American students enrolled at the nation’s colleges and universities has increased by about 40 percent in the past decade; the number of students enrolled at HBCU’s has only increased by 13 percent during the same period.
“I’m uncertain about the overall state of Black schools, but the vast majority of African American educators in this country are graduates of HBCUs,” said Veronica Creech, national director of outreach and engagement for First Book, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization designed to eliminate illiteracy and promote reading among children. She added, “That fact is indicative of the need for specialized colleges and universities.” Creech was a panelist at the conference and spoke at length about the connection between reading and education.
In a related matter, many HBCU’s have increased their recruitment efforts to include Latinos. For example, up until the most recent wave of economic uncertainty, officials at dozens of schools placed advertisements in major Spanish publications and increased on-campus recruitment visits to mostly Latino high schools. Additionally, the Carnegie Communications report showed prospective college students cited the “strength of academic programs,” “overall campus life” and “successful graduates” as the key reasons for opting to attend public and private institutions of higher education.
Lastly, John Harmon, president and CEO of the AACCNJ said the conference raised awareness to the significant challenges students in New Jersey must contend with in an ever-changing education environment. “The ultimate goal of the conference is to provide attendees with information and resources that will strengthen the overall competitiveness of New Jersey and its students with the nation.”