The recent State of the University message delivered by Howard University President Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick was chock-full of good news that the administration, faculty, students and alumni can and should celebrate. One of the nation’s most prestigious universities, which also happens to be a historically Black institution is stronger today than it has ever been, according to Frederick, as it is experiencing increased student enrollment, record-breaking philanthropic giving, new construction projects, and an expectation that its first female president will be appointed.
It couldn’t be a better time for Frederick, who announced last April his plans to retire in June 2024. He has overcome challenges to his leadership of nine years from students and faculty, but it is evident that the university is thriving and he deserves much of the credit.
Still, despite all of the good news, Frederick warned of the challenges ahead.
For one, Frederick acknowledged that HU reached its undergraduate enrollment goal of nearly 13,000 students this fall, proving that the demand for higher education has never been higher. But, he warned, there are those that believe there is an HBCU renaissance and more students are selecting to attend an HBCU, which he vehemently declared “a false narrative.”
“Actually, I’m here to tell you that enrollment for all HBCUs is down, and I am worried that if we continue that narrative, it will be a challenge for the smaller HBCUs,” he said.
Morgan State University in Baltimore also reported an increase in undergraduate enrollment while acknowledging undergraduate enrollment at universities across the country is declining.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that public institutions suffered the brunt of enrollment declines this spring, losing 604,000 students (-5.0% from a year ago). Community colleges accounted for more than half of these losses this spring (351,000 students) and have lost over 827,000 students since the start of the pandemic.
Granted, not every high school graduate plans to go to college, but there is and should be concern over the reasons, besides the pandemic, that have students walking away from higher education. There is the cost, of course, and the Biden administration’s efforts to address college affordability and reduce student debt could have an impact if politicians will make a way. More conversations are needed to explore where higher ed is headed and what needs to be done to keep the doors of opportunity open for all students that must lead the nation and the world forward.