Black Education / Schools : Historically black colleges face declining enrollment

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  1. dustyelbow

    dustyelbow Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Historically black colleges face declining enrollment
    Associated Press Writer
    September 23, 2006
    RICHMOND, Va. -- When prospective college student Jessica Page trundled off to Hampton University in March, she'd considered the visit a formality. She'd already made up her mind to attend the waterside school, considered by many a jewel among the nation's historically black institutions.

    Then she saw the campus.

    The dorms weren't as sleek as she'd pictured. Buildings seemed antiquated. Was this "The Real HU" she'd heard about?

    "I wasn't impressed," said Page, who later enrolled at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. "Hampton was my number one choice--until I visited."

    Page is part of a steady trickle of talented black youths slipping away from the nation's most prestigious black schools.

    Experts say aging campuses are one reason. Dwindling prestige, changes in what black students value and increasing competition from white educational powerhouses provide other clues.

    The resulting exodus has left some black schools struggling to market themselves to youth who don't feel as duty-bound to the colleges as their parents before them.

    "The issue for black colleges is not, in my view, that there are not enough students to go around," explained Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund. "(But) those students have a lot more choices and those students are being careful and more selective than ever before."

    There are 103 historically black colleges and universities--or HBCUs--across the nation. Clustered mostly in the South, they were largely funded during the Reconstruction by wealthy whites as an alternative to universities that had shut out blacks.

    The institutions have curried favor with black students for generations, valued as much for their unique campus traditions and family-like environment as for their skill at grooming the nation's black intellectual elite.

    But data suggest the attraction is waning.

    Total college enrollment of black men and women ages 18 to 24 has increased from 15 percent in 1970 to roughly 25 percent in 2003. The number of black students enrolling in HBCUs has slowly increased, too, from 190,305 in 1976 to more than 230,000 in 2001.

    But the percentage of black college students choosing an HBCU has been drifting downward, from 18.4 percent in 1976 to 12.9 percent in 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Education's most recent figures available.

    Twenty-six of 87 HBCUs profiled by the department recorded enrollment declines between 1995 and 2004.

    Alabama's Talladega College topped the list, losing nearly 54 percent of its students. The University of the District of Columbia, which boasted 9,663 students in 1995, had 5,168 in 2004.

    More troubling are the names of those foundering in recent years, black powerhouses like Fisk, Tuskegee and Bennett, revered as the "Vassar of the South."

    That school had a $2 million budget deficit when the former president of Atlanta's Spelman College, Johnetta Cole, arrived in 2002.

    Experts point to an expanding black middle class and the continuing effort of predominantly white--and often elite _ schools to diversify enrollment. Lacking affirmative action programs that have been questioned on constitutional grounds, colleges and universities have worked hard to attract and keep black students.

    At Virginia, for instance, a peer advisory program pairs incoming black students with black upperclassmen for guidance. Last year, the school expanded Access UVA, a financial aid program. And when black students matriculate, they're presented a stole of bright African cloth in a ceremony called the "Donning of the Kente."

    Valerie Gregory, director of outreach at the Charlottesville school, is a Hampton graduate. She's seeing more students like her daughter--heady black youths who don't feel like they must be surrounded by other blacks to be successful.

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