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Staying competitive – marketing campaigns of historically Black colleges and universities

Nashville, Tn — After a decade of watching enrollment swell at almost twice ,the rate of predominantly white institutions, some historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are beefing up marketing efforts to remain competitive.


Fisk University in Nashville and Howard University in Washington, DC, for example, have launched marketing campaigns to help step up enrollment. “We don’t have the predominant right to the creme de la creme of the Black intelligentsia high school graduates anymore,” said Larry Belton, director of marketing at Mississippi’s Jackson State University.


“Other schools which are not historically Black colleges and universities are recruiting the top academic graduates from the Black sector. So we’ve really upped the ante, more to keep pace than anything else.”


Beefed-up Budgets


Fisk is spending more than $500,000 on its marketing and recruitment efforts with the hope of boosting student enrollment by 40 percent within two years. In addition, it hired a new recruiter, renovated its admissions office and upped its travel budget.


Howard, after watching its enrollment drop by 9 percent over the last five years, has launched an aggressive national advertising campaign.


“The [HBCU] will have to struggle in the marketplace and find its way,” said Howard’s Alan Hermesch. LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis is another HBCU that is beefing up its marketing effort.


About a year ago, LeMoyne revamped its recruitment brochures and built new dormitories to help attract more students. Officials said enrollment at the private college has stalled at an enrollment of 1,300 in recent years. But other institutions, such as Alabama A&M in Huntsville, have seen enrollment drop. Full-time student enrollment rose by 10 percent in 1993, but grew by only about I percent in 1994 and by 3 percent a year ago.


While enrollment at the nation’s 117 HBCUs increased by nearly 5 percent from 1988 to 1992, it climbed only 1.1 percent in 1993, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Education has compiled figures.


Tapping New Sources


Xavier University in New Orleans, however, is a campus on the rise. Student enrollment grew nearly 20 percent in the last five years, university officials said.


Fisk’s plan to expand enrollment from its current 900 students’ to 1,200 includes tapping two new pools of students — transfer students from community colleges and older students.


The university hired Creative Communications of Albany, NY, to determine the maximum number of students Fisk can sustain and how to attract them. Fisk has also turned to philanthropies to help them in their marketing and recruitment efforts. Two big donors have been the Nashville-based HCA Foundation, which donated $100,000, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation of New York, which provided $300,000.


“The school has doubled its efforts to get the number of students we want,” said Harrison DeShields Jr., Fisk’s director of admissions and records.


Hermesch said despite enrollment swings at his and other institutions, he remains optimistic that HBCUs will continue to be a popular choice for students as long as they stay competitive.


“Historically Black colleges have an advantage because their relevance continues to be paramount in America,” Hermesch added. “Beyond that, each institution has to prove its value to the youngsters applying. Those kids get scholarship offers from the best schools in the country.”p

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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