A look at enrollment statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show that currently of the HBCUs that receive federal funding (colleges such as Chicago State, Malcolm X College, and a few colleges are excluded because of the federal definition* of what an HBCU is defined as.) The problem of course with not amending that definition leaves no room for the evolution or expansion of the funding. It also continues to mean that others define us more than we define us. The acute tragedy of it means more importantly that money designated for building of African America’s higher education interest is being siphoned off by other communities. In some cases extremely so and that extreme is that on our list seven of the ten HBCUs listed have less than 50 percent of their student body being of African descent.
T1. Saint Philip’s College (TX) – 9.2%
T1. West Virginia State University (W. VA) – 9.2%
2. Bluefield State College (W. VA) – 9.5%
3. Gadsden State Community College (AL) – 17.2%
4. Shelton State Community College (AL) – 35.2%
5. Lincoln University of Missouri (MO) – 46.2%
6. University of the District of Columbia School of Law (D.C.) – 47.5%
7. Central State University (OH) – 52.7%
8. Bishop State Community College (AL) – 58.9%
9. Fayetteville State University (NC) – 59.6%
10. Edward Waters College (FL) – 61.8%
These schools are the worst of the bunch, but by no means isolated. There are a number of HBCUs where the trend line shows a decreasing population of African descent against the total population of the school and were we to increase our cutoff to 70 percent, a considerable number of additional schools would have been added. This trend is in line with the recent release from the NCES stating, “The percentage of Black students enrolled at HBCUs fell from 18 percent in 1976 to 8 percent in 2014 and then increased to 9 percent in 2020.” What does it mean for African America’s higher educational interest that HBCUs are seeing their leadership and recruitment focused on taking ethnic diversity to a potential extreme? To the point where the school’s would no longer hold or be a cultural asset to African America? These are the questions that need to be asking in urgency, because for the institutions that remaining an African American institution is important too, then strengthening their K-12 pipeline for African American high school graduates is an urgent conversation to be had. That HBCUs do not focus on an Afrocentric definition of diversity, people of African descent from different parts of the Diaspora, African Americans from different geographies, economic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, etc. would still provide diversity shows we often take our cues for higher educational direction from PWIs and not a collection of our own thoughts.
It also more importantly begs the question that if an HBCU is only Black in historic terms only, should their federal funding be redistributed to HBCUS/PBIs who are still serving the higher educational interest of African America. The HBCUs listed (excluding UDC’s law school) received $280 million of the $2.7 billion in federal funding from American Rescue Plan Investment in Historically Black Colleges and Universities most recently, but given their populations, arguably very little is going to help African American students, their families, or our communities. Is the goal for the funding to be substantive to African American higher education development or just symbolic because without absolute consideration to that point, then we are simply getting more of the latter and not the former.