Officials at North Carolina A&T State University are attributing a dramatic spike in applications to strategic hires in recruitment and admissions, increased focus on in-state recruiting, and massive exposure in the Aggies’ victory in ESPN’s inaugural Celebration Bowl.
But the real reason A&T, and black colleges all over the country are seeing and will see increases in applications? It is because the more that exposure predominantly white campuses can earn for racist attitudes and outputs, the more attractive large and well-branded historically black colleges become to a larger pool of students.
Most black students throughout the east coast, midwest and southeastern regions of the United States are genetically wired with an affinity for HBCUs. Everybody has a close relative, a church or mosque member, or guidance counselor who can speak to the impact of HBCUs on their personal and professional lives.
Over the last 20 years, those trusted ties have waned in their pitch to black students who, in looking for the right fit for higher education, were attracted to the cultural explosion of college athletics, an abundance of scholarship packages and the call for diversity from predominantly white colleges into middle class black communities.
Those elements helped black students to build resentment against underfunded and misunderstood black colleges, which only in the last ten years have begun to cull scarce resources to transform student and academic experiences with technological and cultural advancements — but not before HBCU students and alumni began an internal scare campaign of their family and friends to steer clear of black colleges.
But for as much as we try to decode the desires and expectations of black millennials, and for as much as we try to explain why black colleges remain a premier option for college students of all races and economic backgrounds, the thread which unites black folks across age and income remains as strong today as it did in black higher education’s infancy in the late 1800's:
We would rather put up with black folks’ mess than white folks’ racism. Every day and twice on Sundays. We will do all we can to mitigate the mess that comes with being part of an underserved, oppressed people while hoping that one day, the majority of us learn to ‘stay woke.’
But we will not look at police-sanctioned lynchings, ostracism in white campus spaces, Donald Trump on the campaign trail and decide “yeah, if Dr. King was here, he’d want me to get a big ol’ piece of that.’
So here comes the great re-migration back to HBCUs, and we’re all excited for it. Schools like A&T, FAMU, Morehouse, Spelman, Howard, Southern, North Carolina Central, Tuskegee — all are likely to soon report historic highs in applications, if they haven’t already. Less popular HBCUs will benefit too, but the rising belief in how much black lives matter among race conscious college seekers is prompting a first look at those HBCU brands with nationally historic and contemporary reach in households and guidance offices.
And its a wonderful time to be an HBCU these days; as states like North Carolina and Louisiana grow more aggressively hostile towards black colleges, our institutions will need the numbers to prop up our cases in legislature, to alumni and donors, and potentially, in front of federal judges.
Schools may say they are doing something to help spur the interest, and in many ways they are — putting more hooks in the water when a school of fish is swimming by is always a good idea. But predominantly white schools didn’t chase black students away from their campuses; angry white students and faculty did.
And historically black colleges don’t have enough scholarship or marketing money to genuinely claim ownership over the throng of students rushing their doors; they just need to be thankful for the growing culture of common sense and racial pride among the Class of 2020.
And to make sure that they don’t overbook dorms so that these same students aren’t on the news complaining during move-in day.