The increase is driven by many factors, including national attention on social justice issues and pandemic-related stress.
While many colleges around the United States continued to notice steep drops in enrollment during the ongoing pandemic, HBCUs are experiencing the exact opposite. Many of the country’s largest historically Black institutions are seeing record numbers of applications.
Baltimore’s Morgan State University has seen a nearly 60% increase in applications since the 2020 school year, with about 14,600 hopefuls applying to the school. Spelman College in Atlanta saw a 22% increase, and Washington, D.C.’s Howard University saw an 11% bump in applicants since last year. While North Carolina A&T reported a slight increase since last year, they’re up about 7% from 2019.
In terms of acceptance rates, Morgan State accepts about 68% of applicants; North Carolina accepts 58%; Spelman accepts about 43%; and Howard accepts only 36% of the applications it receives.
“Students are looking for this place where they feel that they’re going to be safe, where they’re going to be physically safe, where they’re going to be mentally and psychologically safe,” Dr. Kara Turner, vice president for Enrollment Management at Morgan State, told WTOP.
One of the driving factors in the application increase is the string of high profile killings of Black people in summer 2020. HBCUs saw similar, though less dramatic, spikes after Donald Trump was elected in 2016 and following the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017.
“Students chose to apply to HBCUs because they knew they would feel safe there,” Howard professor Robert Palmer told Forbes.
And they’ll be provided an education from some of the best in the business. Earlier this year, Howard University announced the addition of Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates as the first Knight Chair in Race and Journalism and a faculty position at the College of Arts and Sciences, respectively.
MacArthur provided a $5 million grant to support the Center for Journalism and Democracy. MacArthur dedicated $1.25 million of that funding to supporting the next phase of Hannah-Jones’ world-renowned “The 1619 Project.”
College tours are a sort of rite of passage in America, and the pandemic has halted those for many people, whether due to financial stress or not feeling comfortable traveling or being in crowds. Without being able to step foot on a campus, prospective students have to base their decisions on other factors when choosing a school.
“I wanted to go to a school where everyone looked like me and was having the same struggles as me,” Mikayla Terry explained to Forbes. “I want that sense of feeling welcome, of not being judged or worrying about saying something or having to code switch.”
As the country progresses, more HBCU graduates are in the spotlight, holding higher positions and highlighting their schools. Howard graduate Kamala Harris is vice president of the United States. Voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams graduated from Spelman. And Howard University has recently been in the spotlight with hires like Hannah-Jones and Coates. The university also renamed the College of Fine Arts building after late award-winning actor Chadwick Boseman and established a scholarship in his name.
Along with the national attention, HBCUs are receiving more donations from outside organizations. Most notably, MacKenzie Scott gifted $40 million to Morgan State.
“I was quite emotional,” Morgan State President David Kwabena Wilson told Forbes about the “historic high” donation. “I couldn’t believe that someone had finally done their homework and had concluded that Morgan State was one of the best investment opportunities in higher ed in the country.”