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Meeting New Challenges

While leaders at North Carolina’s historically Black colleges and universities express optimism over the potential they envision for their individual campuses, they are mindful of the challenges they face.

Among North Carolina’s 11 Black colleges and universities, it’s possible to see them as a representative sample of the 105 institutions that make up the historically Black college and university community in the United States. While leaders at the state’s HBCUs express optimism over the potential they envision their individual campuses fulfilling, they are mindful of the challenges they face.

Chief among those challenges is the projected population growth in North Carolina over the next decade that has state officials planning for the 200,000-student University of North Carolina systemto accommodate an additional 80,000 students by 2017. In addition to state population growth pushing the public universities to increase capacity by nearly 50 percent in less than 10 years, officials project the state’s economy will need 400,000 new workers by 2014, according to UNC systemestimates.

“In many ways,North Carolina is a state on which to keep one’s eyes because of the population growth and the changes in demographics,” says Dr. Lucy Reuben, a higher education expert and professor of the practice of business administration at Duke University.

North Carolina HBCUs, both public and private, confront plentiful opportunities for enrollment, academic programs and research growth, provided the necessary funding and leadership are available to facilitate such opportunity. In the past two years, a majority of the HBCUs in North Carolina have welcomed new campus leaders, signaling a dramatic changing of the guard. Barber-Scotia College, Bennett College, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Livingstone College, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University have inaugurated new presidents and chancellors since 2006. Diverse recently spoke with several HBCU presidents and found a wide range of concerns and views, some common and some specific to their respective campuses.

Positioning for the Future

ECSU is experiencing some growing pains and is having difficulty providing housing for all of its residential students. Dr. Willie Gilchrist, the university chancellor, told ECSU trustees at a meeting in September that the school could have enrolled as many as 4,200 students this academic year, but could barely accommodate 3,100 because of a school housing shortage.

Though North Carolina campuses have recently renovated and constructed new buildings and dormitories from the proceeds of state-issued bonds, ECSU needs a new round of dormitory funding and is considering seeking private funding in partnership with the university’s foundation, according to Gilchrist, who became the ECSU chancellor in 2007.

Gilchrist says HBCUs that are predominantly undergraduate institutions have to find innovative ways to connect their faculty and administrators to local communities. While schools such as NCCU and Saint Augustine’s College seek partnerships with wealthy research universities, federal agencies, and multinational corporations based in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, ECSU is reinvigorating its ties to the local economy.

Gilchrist says he’s gone to local organizations, like the airport authority, and persuaded their boards either to create board positions for ECSU faculty and staff or nominate them to existing positions. He explains that organizations have been receptive to the idea, and several ECSU appointments have beenmade to local boards over the past year.

“We have to make ourselves indispensable to the communities where we are based. We shouldn’t limit ourselves simply because we’re a historically Black institution. These organizations can benefit from our expertise, and we need them welcoming our students into the local work forces,”Gilchrist says.

Raising Expectations

Officials at NCCU have confronted a housing shortage at the Durham-based campus and taken time to study its prospects for further expansion. After growing almost 50 percent in enrollment from2000 to 2007,NCCU kept enrollment at 8,000 this fall, similar to last year’s total. Officials project enrollment will reach 13,500 by 2017.

These days, NCCU chancellor Charlie Nelms likes to talk about implementing a “quality service initiative” to improve university administration as well as academic programs for students. Nelms says that he has “sought to improve the quality of service at North Carolina Central such that we become better known for our caring and compassionate response.”

“We’re working to improve graduation rates…We know there’s enormous roomfor improvement. And so raising those expectations is part of that improvement strategy.We have created a university college, and we’re focusing on the first- and second-year of a student’s collegiate experience,”Nelms says.

This past summer,NCCU dedicated its $20 million Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) facility, which is training biotechnology scientists and helping to expand North Carolina’s fastgrowing biotech industry.

Nelms contends that while graduate students and the research faculty will make important discoveries, the BRITE research organization will involve undergraduates in training for the jobs available to college graduates in this cutting-edge field. Nelms also says NCCU has to expand its overall graduate education program and research capacity to ensure that BRITE and other research centers can be sustained at the campus. “For the first time this fall, as soon as we conclude the search, we will have a vice chancellor for graduate education and research. We have about $60 million in (research) funding, and what we’d like to do is to get that up to about $100million,Nelms says.

Private Works & Public Good

Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber, the president of Saint Augustine’s College, has demonstrated during her tenure at the Raleigh-based private college how to prosper in North Carolina’s dynamic higher education environment. Since her presidential appointment in 1999, Suber has recognized the rich opportunities that exist in the Research Triangle region that includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. To many in the HBCU community, she may be best known for bringing the football programto campus with the effect of increasing alumni support and helping boosting Blackmale enrollment at the school.

“Seven years ago, we brought back football and it has had a tremendous impact not only on the reconnection of alumni, but it has had an impact on alumni giving. And for the seventh consecutive year, we have had a larger percentage of African-American men on campus than women and the graduation rate is comparable,”Suber says.

She notes that school administrators are now studying enrollment trends to better understand how its athletic programs, which includes an internationally renowned track and field team, and recent academic major additions, such as real estate management, have each contributed to attracting Black male students.

“If, in fact,we can prove we are creating best practices, then we want to document that because we think that by year seven, which is where we are now in terms of a majority Black male enrollment, it’s not the luck of the draw,”Suber explains.

Suber has also sought innovative ways to involve Saint Augustine’s students in learning opportunities in emerging fields and research throughout the Research Triangle region.

“We have looked strategically at the needs of the community, at the needs of society, and have planned our academic programs to support those needs and to ensure that our students are more competitive for job placements upon graduation,” she notes.

Newer leaders at other private HBCUs in North Carolina also express interest in taking on ambitious projects at their respective campuses. Dr. Ronald Carter, the president of Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., eagerly talks about plans to launch a Center for Applied Research to examine issues, such as health disparities, diversity in the state work force, and Charlotte’s relationship with its surrounding rural communities.

“The Center for Applied Research will not only focus on Charlotte, but we will define a region within the state of North Carolina. And so I hope that through the center we will impact North Carolina through developing models in the areas of our expertise and so these best practices can be used by institutions and cities all over the United States,”Carter says.

Not all North Carolina HBCUs have enjoyed prosperous times. In 2004, Barber- Scotia College lost its accreditation and closed its doors from May 2005 to fall 2007 when it began offering adult education classes. This fall, the school has re-opened as a full college and is applying for reaccreditation under new presidentDavidOlah.

The Past Weighs on the Present .

Given the expected population and economic growth in North Carolina over the next several years, it’s not surprising that Black college presidents see tremendous opportunity for their respective campuses. For leaders at the five Black public institutions, in particular, it comes despite those institutions being among the bottom eight of 16 public universities in North Carolina receiving the least amount of per capita student funding as well as the least in total appropriations. These facts were documented in “Contemporary HBCUs: Considering Institutional Capacity and State Priorities,” by Dr. James H.Minor, a professor of higher education at Michigan StateUniversity.

“In North Carolina, for instance, both the University of North Carolina-ChapelHill and North Carolina State University independently receive more of the state’s appropriation than all of the five HBCUs combined. Together, UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State enroll approximately 4,145 African- American students. North Carolina A&T State University alone enrolls twice as many African-American students but receives a fraction of the state’s appropriation[s],” according toMinor’s 2007 report.

Dr. Molly Broad, a former president of the University of North Carolina System and the current president of theAmerican Council on Education, says historically Black universities in North Carolina have experienced a difficult path since the 1970s.

“Following the consent decree in North Carolina and the opening of access for African-Americans to previously all-White campuses, the HBCUs experienced some very significant competitive enrollment challenges … and they, frankly, saw declines in enrollments. They experienced financial challenges; the conditions of their buildings and grounds deteriorated,” she explains.

Broad shares the optimism that Black college presidents express about the potential they see for their respective campuses. “Clearly the bond referendum made a huge difference in the condition and the size of facilities on every campus…I think you would see in the past 10 years those (HBCU) campuses have grown bigger, better and stronger in every way. And they are on a very progressive trajectory,” she says.

For more on North Carolina’s HBCU leaders, listen to interviews from Fayetteville State University’s James Anderson, Johnson C. Smith’s Dr. Ronald Carter, and a roundup discussion featuring ECSU’s Dr. Willie Gilchrist, Saint Augustine’s Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber, and North Carolina Central’s Dr. Charlie Nelms.

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