WANTED: More Blacks For W.Va HBCU

Some schools are HBCUs in name only

While Mississippi’s three historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) are working to recruit more white students, one HBCU is trying to recruit more blacks.

Bluefield State College in West Virginia has the largest percentage of white students — 88 percent — of any HBCU in the country.

It is among at least five HBCUs where the student population is more than 50 percent non-black, according to the latest figures available from the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, an organization that focuses on the issues concerning historically and predominantly black colleges and universities.

So what happens when a predominantly black school is anything but?

“Bluefield’s black student enrollment has doubled from 6 to 12 percent in recent years,” said Jim Nelson, assistant to the president. The numbers are promising considering Blacks only make up about 3 percent of West Virginia’s population.

Bluefield junior Christine Ervin believes the college needs to do more to recruit black students.

“They need at least half and half or something,” said the 21-year-old business administration major. “They would have to go out of state to get black students because in the area, there’s no black people here.”

To help recruit more black students, Bluefield’s minority task force is working with area high schools and churches, and recruiting more minority faculty and administrators. It hired a black president in 2002, the first one since the mid-1960s. It also has programs about diversity throughout the year, instead of just Black History Month.

“It’s just an appreciation toward the roots of the school,” said Nelson. “There was never an attempt among the students to disrespect the history of the institution, but there was a lack of knowledge. Now we’re taking care of that.”

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities are struggling to maintain a “diversified” setting. In fact, the state mandates that the three HBCUs must maintain a 10-percent “other-race” enrollment over three consecutive years to access income from a $70 million public endowment and a $35 million private endowment.

Alcorn has surpassed its requirement, recruiting over 10 percent of “non-blacks” for two years in a row. However, as of fall 2004, Jackson State with 8 percent and Valley with 6 percent have fallen short.

Under federal court order, white students can receive “diversity scholarships” to encourage them to attend Mississippi’s HBCUs. A totalof $3,582,0006 has been spent on diversity scholarships since 1997.

 Alcorn junior Marvin Kehler has received a diversity scholarship in the past.

The 23-year-old Pasadena, California, native said he had a culture shock dealing with different people — and different music.

“It’s an interesting experience when you’re from a place like California, which is also very diverse. In some ways it’s not much different from what I had been used to,” said Kehler, who is attending Alcorn on a full music/vocal performance scholarship. “Overall, I would not exchange that experience … I got to know students much better and enjoyed working with the faculty there. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.”

At Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware, there is no mandate to boost the number of white students through scholarships. But the university uses federal funds to offer scholarships specifically to non-black students, said Drexel Ball, acting dean of admissions. About 16 percent of Delaware State’s students are white.

“Delaware State looks to be diverse and is also trying to recruit students from the Hispanic population as well. Certainly it is healthy for the whole student body to learn about other races — their likes, dislikes, idiosyncrasies,” said Ball.

At Kentucky State University, a land grant institution in Frankfort where the white student enrollment is 34 percent, nothing special is done to recruit white students, said David Shabazz, director of public relations. They come partly because of its location.

“A lot of HBCUs are in predominantly black neighborhoods, in the ghettoes if you will, and Kentucky State is not. We’re in the capital city,” said Shabazz.

At Kentucky State as well as Bluefield, white students started enrolling after Brown v. Board of Education, a 1954 federal case that said “separate but equal” has no place in public education.

“White students realized that the school is open. They can attend the school and get a quality education right here in their neighborhood or very close to them without having to go out of town,” said Shabazz.

Students are attracted to Kentucky State’s master’s degree in aquaculture and other programs.

“There’s no fear of getting an inferior education here, and I would say that as a testament to the large number of white students we have,” said Shabazz.