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Study: Public HBCUs Experience Increasing Enrollment

by Michelle J. Nealy

Despite nagging financial problems, accreditation troubles and relatively low graduation rates, historically Black colleges continue to remain an integral part of the educational equation for African-Americans and are growing in popularity, according to a comprehensive new study by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Although HBCUs only comprise 3 percent of American colleges and universities, they enroll nearly one in every four African-American college students. The annual report, “Thurgood Marshall College Fund Demographic Report,” is based on the 2005-06 academic year and reveals an enrollment growth trend at public HBCUs. In 2002, public HBCUs enrolled 206,000 students; that number increased significantly by 2006, totaling 235,000.

In 2004, nearly 34,000 first-time freshmen enrolled at TMCF member institutions, public HBCUs such as Bowie State University in Maryland or Alabama A&M University. In 2005, 62 percent of these students returned to continue their education.

Black male enrollment at public HBCUs increased more than 3 percent over the past two years, the study reports. Female students, however, represent 63 percent of total enrollment at TMCF member institutions.

Thirteen institutions reported a retention rate of 70 percent or better for first-time freshmen. Howard University leads with an 86 percent retention rate, followed by Albany State University at 77 percent. North Carolina Central University rounds out the top three with a 76 percent retention rate.

In terms of graduation rates, however, neither Howard nor Albany reached 70 percent. According to Education Sector, an independent think tank, in 2007 Howard graduated 69 percent of its students in six years; Albany State only graduated 43 percent.

The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by TMCF’s 47 member institutions totaled 24,617 during the 2005-06 academic year. Degrees in business, social sciences and education were among the most popular. Fifteen percent of bachelor’s degree and 34 percent of master’s degrees awarded were in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

According to the report, public HBCUs reflected stronger racial and ethnic diversity of students and faculty than majority institutions. Student populations at TMCF member institutions showed that African-Americans represented 83 percent of the overall student body followed by White Americans at 9 percent, Hispanics at 2 percent and Asians at 1 percent.

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