Black colleges - beefing up enrollment, curriculum, endowment

America's traditionally black colleges - beset by declines in enrollment, financial strains, and challenges to prove their worth in an era when racial integration is a national goal - are working hard to ensure their survival and strengthen their role.

The combined debits of the recent recession and the smaller pool of college-age young people on which to draw have caused a five-year decline in enrollments at the 42 institutions supported by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). These schools, however, reported a slight upturn (1.5 percent) for the 1983-84 school year.

Overall, the nation's 103 black colleges had enrollments totaling about 250, 000 students for 1983-84, which represents an increase of about 2.5 percent over the previous year, according to Dr. Samuel L. Myers, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). About 8 to 10 percent of these students are white, he says.

Some of this year's gains likely came from increased efforts in recent years to get potential students to visit black campuses and from recruitment efforts that tap the enthusiasm of students.

For example, Paine College in Augusta, Ga., a school affiliated with the United Methodist Church, has used senior Sasha Callendar as a recruiter and fund-raiser. Last summer she spent 10 weeks in the Northeast telling people about the 12 campuses supported by the Methodists' Black College Fund. ''Most of the people I met were white, andmost gave regularly to the black colleges,'' she says. ''But they told me they really felt I gave them a sense of having a personal touch with these schools.''

Ms. Callendar, a New Yorker whose avocation is theater, says, ''I love the intimacy and friendliness at Paine. . . .'' Her math major and courses in computer programming, she notes, are helping in her job interviews.

In addition to student-recruiters, black colleges offer tours of their campuses in an effort to attract students. Pamela Harris, a freshman at a predominantly white Boston college, toured 14 campuses in 10 days last winter. ''I'd never been to an all-black school,'' she says. The tour illustrated the ''hospitality, friendliness, and interest in the individual'' at black colleges, she adds.

At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (A&T) here in Greensboro, enrollment increases during the just-ending school year were higher than the national average. The current student population is up nearly 10 percent over the previous year. And applications for enrollment ''are running 10 percent over last year,'' says Chancellor Edward B. Fort.

Dr. Fort places part of the credit for the increase on a Focus on Excellence campaign, which will provide scholarships, faculty development, library enhancement, and cultural programs for the school. That program ''helps us survive,'' he says. So far more than $1.5 million has been pledged toward the $5 million goal, the largest single fund-raising effort ever conducted by A&T.

Excellence in classroom offerings is a goal many colleges are setting to lure students. Some black colleges are replacing old ''dependables'' - teacher training, training for social work, pre-law, pre-medicine, and dentistry - with schooling for jobs in such growing fields as business administration, engineering, computer programming, and mass communications. Florida A&M University, for instance, is emphasizing business, Hampton Institute marine science, and Howard University mass media.

Apart from improving curriculum and recruiting students, many of the colleges are conducting drives to increase their endowments, a new direction for most black colleges. And, in a precedent-setting move, the Mott Foundation has designated a $1 million fund designed to help black public colleges establish endowments. Seven colleges are already in the process of accepting this challenge grant, says Velma Burtley of the foundation. This money is helping to bolster the Robert R. Moton Memorial Institute college endowment funding plan, whereby each college raises funds that will be matched by Moton funds and money from national corporations. The plan is already operating for about 20 UNCF colleges, she adds.

The first appeared June 18

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