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With Economic Slump, Fewer Students Expected to Enroll in Black Colleges

While their counterparts are seeing unprecedented numbers of applications, many historically Black colleges and universities aren’t seeing an increase at all. In addition, they have the burden of knowing those who do apply and get accepted probably won’t be able to afford to enroll this fall.

Since they often serve students with the most financial need, historically Black private schools are concerned whether admitted students can afford to pay tuition.

“We’ve had a double-digit increase in applications for our scholarships, which suggests students want to go to private and public HBCUs, but the question is can they afford it,” says Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund. “We don’t know if we will have the resources to help these students go to school … . A number of our long-standing partners are reducing their level of support so the resources are not clearly identifiably there.”

At a time when many students need financial aid the most, they will find that the money simply isn’t there.

UNCF supports 39 private HBCUs and administers scholarship money to minority students. Applications for UNCF’s largest scholarship program — the Gates Millennium Scholars program — are up by 47 percent compared to where they were last year at this time, according to UNCF spokeswoman Joye Griffin.

But, at the same time, as record numbers of students need tuition assistance, there’s less money available, adds Griffin. “Total gifts, meaning dollar gifts for scholarship programs, were down 10 percent in 2008 compared to 2007. That has an impact on the money we can award right now.”

Some think the economic downturn might turn students away from HBCUs. Fewer people than last year applied for the current spring semester to what some consider to be the Ivy League of Black colleges, Howard University in Washington, D.C., according to Linda Sanders-Hawkins, Howard’s director of admissions.

For the upcoming fall semester, however, Sanders-Hawkins says, Howard has received the same number of applications as the previous fall semester, though students still have until next month to apply. “We are where we were last year at this time. We are concerned how the economic downturn will affect our applicant pool,” says Sanders-Hawkins.

Sanders-Hawkins worries private HBCUs will lose these students to public universities. “I think we have to be aware that state schools may be better able to serve students financially,” Sanders-Hawkins adds. “We’re concerned there might be an increase in state applicants which could impede on our applicant pool.”

But even public HBCUs are becoming unaffordable for students. At Morgan State University in Maryland more than 90 percent of students receive financial aid, Clinton R. Coleman, Morgan State’s spokesperson, recently told Diverse. Maryland’s governor slightly increased — by 3.3 percent — funding to the state’s public HBCUs, but that still won’t be enough to keep many students in school during tough financial times, Coleman said.

“We’ll probably have fewer students,” Coleman added. “It’s going to be the difference between going to college and not going to college for a lot of students.”

While top predominantly White private schools are already seeing more applicants than ever before, private HBCUs aren’t following suit.

For example, Harvard University saw a record number of people — 29,000 — apply for this fall’s freshmen class, according to the Associated Press. Princeton University received a record number of applications, according to the university’s Web site, which reported that nearly 22,000 people applied. Duke University saw a record number of students apply for the class of 2013, according to the school’s independent newspaper. It was the largest single year jump ever, the paper states. Brown University also received a record number of applications, according to the campus newspaper.

Private HBCUs are not seeing a similar increase in applicants.

Hampton University in Virginia reports the same number of applicants as last year, according to Angela Nixon Boyd, Hampton’s director of admissions. “In terms of the students who entered in fall 2008, it was about the same as last year,” says Nixon Boyd. “The economy hasn’t affected us in any way I can determine now. What remains to be seen is commitment. Application activity has been about the same, but when the time comes to commit in May we’ll have a better picture.”

It’s the same story at Xavier University of Louisiana, another private historically Black school. “So far there’s been no impact from the economic downturn that we have noticed, but we’re watching with great interest as we begin accepting students for fall 2009,” says Warren A. Bell, Jr., associate vice president of university and media relations at Xavier.

Enrollment for this past fall’s entering class at Xavier was consistent with previous years, says Bell. “We’re expecting comparable numbers for the fall but because of the economic crisis we’re taking countermeasures to inform parents of all their financial aid options,” he adds.

Many educational institutions are feeling fallout from the economic downturn, but many education officials agree HBCUs are likely to hurt more.

However, Lomax of the UNCF believes it’s too early to tell how much the economy will impact enrollment at HBCUs.

“We don’t really have a lot of data yet comparing fall semester enrollment versus the year before,” Lomax says. “The first place I think we’ll see it is in next spring semester’s retention rates. The next place we’ll see it is among students who won’t be able to enroll in fall 2009 because of less employment and (because) they can’t get loans, absent dramatic intervention from the federal government.”

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