Newsworks recently profiled The Lincoln University of Pennsylvania and Delaware State University as two historically black colleges growing against the trend of falling enrollment at black colleges nationwide. Leaders at both schools attributed their enrollment increases to development in student services, international outreach, and being more strategic about recruiting from non-black student populations.
But for all of those things to work, the first step is for a student to be engaged enough to submit a completed application. HBCUs receive thousands of applications every year, but the majority of those submitted are incomplete. Most colleges and universities are equipped with personnel, or technology, or a combination of the two to follow up with an interested student in getting transcripts, recommendations and other submission elements in before a tight deadline.
But thanks to underfunding, and its impact on human and technology deficits at HBCUs, hundreds of the incomplete applications usually get stuffed into a drawer or a file cabinet, along with the best intentions of processing staff getting back to them once complete applications are processed and offer letters are sent. Those files typically are backlogged behind scheduling and conducting campus tours and entertaining walk-in prospects.
And then you have those same overworked personnel fielding non-stop calls from families checking on their application status, which usually results in them being told the application was lost and they should resubmit. But it wasn’t lost — it is in the drawer five feet away from the processor on the phone who put the incomplete application there in the first place, but who doesn’t have time to check it, because a tour is walking in the door as he is telling the family the application is lost.
On the front end, processors and recruiters get a bad rap for losing paperwork and providing bad customer service to interested customers. On the back-end, the disaffected customers go out and tell the world that HBCUs, not just the one to which they applied, but HBCUs in general, are awful at debunking stereotypes of lost paperwork, rude staff, and accessible systems for entry. This prospect alone has been a quiet scourge on the HBCU admissions machine for at least 25 years, and will continue to be one of the major factors in HBCU branding issues.
HBCUs don’t need more recruiters — they need more processors and technology to meet the real demand of the thousands of students trying to get in, but for whatever reason, do not finish the application which they probably sent in days after the application cutoff. And schools know it — look at the data on application processing from Lincoln and DSU.
At both schools, fewer applications have come in over the last three years, but more are being accepted and yielding offers of admission. Admission standards and financial aid accessibility are part of the equation, and so is the jump in accepted applications and admits which new presidents typically demand in order to claim an easy victory in the first year of the presidency.
But from the first and most basic level of getting someone into school, Lincoln, Delaware State and many other HBCUs are working to break the cycle of falling enrollment. Many schools are employing more campus-based events for students to apply and receive an on-the-spot decision of admission. Smart schools are taking strategic measures in not just marketing to students, but to parents and guidance counselors who influence student college choice.
All of these efforts point to one goal — get students to submit complete applications to cut the logjam and stress on the people working in admissions and recruitment. Things may have been wrong for a long time, and are still wrong on many HBCU campuses, but there’s great hope in knowing that schools like Lincoln and Delaware State are working to get it right.