Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Posted by: Valorie Lawson - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Studies show that nationwide more white students are enrolling at historically black colleges and universities: choosing them for their cost, proximity and programs.

In Alabama  the settlement of a desegregation lawsuit against the state ensured public HBCU's better facilities and programs to attract more white students. But, in the next few years many of those court-ordered requirements will expire. Some have already ended. The question now: "Will white students still come?"

Alabama State University says it's not leaving diversity up to chance.

Drew Quinney had two goals when he graduated from high school: attend college and play baseball. So, when scholarship offers started to roll in he left his home in Sheridan, Texas and jumped on a four year offer to Alabama State university. He found himself a minority on campus. "I honestly have not felt like that at all" Quinney says. "Everyone treats me just like I'm one of everybody."

Quinney is part of a small population of students slowly changing the landscape of a university once created for Africans Americans barred from mostly white college campuses, and it's happening across the nation. Other historically black colleges and university's are reaching out to white students as well as students of other nationalities.

"We want to be sure to continue our tradition of being a historically black college and university, but we also want to diversify our campus with non-African American students," explained Danielle Kennedy Lamar, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at ASU.

Some of the shift in population comes with a nudge from the courts. Alabama is under a federal court order to desegregate its system of higher education, partly through diversity scholarships.

Alabama State University Vice President and CEO John Knight was a key plaintiff in a desegregation lawsuit against the state that also included Alabama A&M University as a plaintiff. Both school benefited from millions of dollars to add courses, classrooms and scholarships. Knight calls the scholarship offerings key. "They were included in there, in my opinion, because the court recognized historically black institutions as historically black institutions - but not as black institutions. So, I think they wanted to make sure the institutions were open with a diverse student body."

But, the practice of awarding scholarships solely on race has ended, per the courts. Now, Alabama State and Alabama A&M are struggling to maintain their non-black student bodies. In the past ten years the number of white students at both universities has dropped.

There are 105 HBCU's in the country, all of them fighting to increase enrollment. That means the have to get creative to attract not just African American students, but all students.

Tuskegee University, though a privately run HBCU, has seen a jump in the number of white students attending there. Statistics show an increase of more than five percent in the last ten years. 

At Alabama State their "Vision 2020" plan includes a goal of attracting 8,000 students by the decade's end. Danielle Kennedy Lamar says that number includes minorities.

"I  think, academically, they will see their experience at ASU is no different than anywhere else. They will be challenged in the classroom, they will have social experiences. For them, it's just they're in the minority. "

Quinney says he's grateful for his experiences at State. For him it's a chance to play ball, live that campus life and - no matter what his color - reach the same goal as other students, to get an education.

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