Black colleges optimistic they can turn ebbing enrollment tide

Black colleges are losing their students, but this doesn't seem to daunt educators at these institutions. During the 1985-86 school year black-college enrollment dropped 5 percent. Many black students quit school because they believed that student aid funds were drying up.

``But I'm optimistic,'' says Samuel L. Myers, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). ``It would not surprise me to see more students enroll in black colleges and more blacks register on all campuses this fall.

As head of NAFEO, an organization that represents the nation's 110 historically black colleges, Dr. Myers works closely with other groups such as the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). He also works with public agencies and private foundations and corporations that assist black colleges through grants, gifts, and services.

Black colleges will not fade away, says Norman L. Francis, president of Xavier University in New Orleans and a past president of the UNCF.

Most black colleges are revising their courses to gear them to the job requirements of industry, Dr. Francis says. Unfortunately, he adds, although more blacks are finishing high school, fewer black students have been attending college.

All 43 UNCF colleges are fully accredited, Francis says. He notes, for instance, that Xavier has the only school of pharmacy for blacks, and Tuskegee is the only black university offering veterinary science.

One school that is struggling to keep above dwindling funds is Morristown College in Tennessee, Myers says. During the past school year officials there announced that the college would close, but later they decided to reopen this fall.

``I can't tell you whether Morristown will succeed,'' Myers said in an interview. ``I'll have to wait a couple of months after classes begin and see the figures to make an assessment, but I'll have to do the same for all the black campuses.''

Developments during the summer could spell a turnaround not only for black colleges, but for the number of black students attending all colleges, he says. He listed these factors:

President Reagan has expressed his support of black colleges, and the federal government has increased financial aid available to college students. ``In recent years black young people have heard so many rumors about alleged cutbacks in funds that many have given up the thought of college,'' Myers says. ``Many stopped applying. This year Congress has increased student aid, and students know this. This could mean more black students enrolled in college this fall.''

Private corporations have expressed their confidence in black colleges. Myers mentions two. One, Pepsico, is financing a marketing campaign to promote the qualities and abilities of black colleges, he says. General Foods, he adds, has hired a public-relations firm to conduct a recruiting program that encourages young people to take a second look at black colleges.

``These efforts, I believe, will counteract the negative reactions of last year,'' Myers says. ``Parents already are beginning to recognize that black schools offer a quality education at a lower cost. And they know the federal government is investing more revitalization funds in these schools.''

Desegregation of public colleges has opened the schools to a new student, white young people.

``Black colleges do more than their share to educate black students, especially those with modest high school grades and borderline college entry-test scores,'' says Dr. Francis. He was one of two black members of the Commission on Excellence, which produced ``A Nation at Risk,'' a controversial study of the nation's public school systems.

He talks statistics. Black colleges (110), only 5 percent of the nation's 2,000 plus colleges and universities, enroll 17 percent of the nation's black collegians but award 40 percent of the bachelor's degrees, he says.

``Our colleges accomplish the impossible with our students although we suffer in funding,'' Francis adds. ``State legislatures send out negative signals by discouraging the financing of public black colleges. Donors often are less than generous to our private schools. Yet everyone demands first-class performance. And we provide that!''

Returning to his thoughts on education of black youth, he notes research that shows that blacks are losing ground as they mount the educational ladder. They total 12 percent of the nation's 18-year-olds, 10 percent of high school students, 8 percent of high school graduates, 6 percent of college graduates, and 4.5 percent of professional school graduates.

``High school graduates are missing a great opportunity to turn their lives around when they neglect to check out black colleges. . . .

``We offer quality study at affordable cost when compared to the expenses of a mainstream university, even state schools. Our UNCF campuses offer quality study, leadership opportunities, and network potential to students often isolated on most campuses,'' Francis says.

Most black colleges offer remedial courses to help students catch up. Many administrations are beginning to update their offerings and improve their physical facilities to compete for black students with mainstream schools, he adds.

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