After years of decline, brought on by tougher admission standards and stringent requirements for student loans, enrollment at most historically black colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Louisiana, has risen modestly.
Last year, Grambling State University's fall enrollment totaled 4,553 — an increase of 49 students from the previous fall, said Damon Wade, vice president of institutional effectiveness and enrollment management at the university.
Similarly, Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, saw a fall enrollment increase of 322 students in 2015, according to data reported by the Louisiana Board of Regents. And overall enrollment within the Southern University System increased by 628 students for that same year.
Higher education experts say the increase could be due in part to a rise in the number of non-black students attending HBCUs, as well as recent racial conflicts at predominantly white institutions.
But for some black colleges and universities, the enrollment trend is still down.
Dillard University's enrollment has fluctuated over the past four years with enrollment dipping by 15 students last fall.
Southern University Law Center has experienced a recurring decline in enrollment since 2013. Last fall, enrollment was down by 15 students.
The number of non-traditional black students is growing at campuses because of lower tuition, higher academic programs and more students wanting to attend a safer college environment, said Marybeth Gasman, a higher education professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.
"We're seeing an influx of Latino students and also Asian students at HBCUs, but that's happening at all kinds of institutions," Gasman said. "For a long time it wasn't happening at HBCUs, and just in the past five years, it's been happening a lot more. A lot of schools will see more white students if they have an MBA program, law school or programs that aren't at other institutions, but there's still some prejudice and racism that stops white students from going to HBCUs."
Gasman also attributes negative media coverage on predominantly white institutions to sparking an increase in attendance.
"I think that all the national protests and shooting of black men and women has played a part," she said. "I have interviewed quite a few students who have told me that HBCUs are a safe place, a sanctuary."
Grambling State University projects an enrollment of 4,800 students this upcoming school year, up by 247 students from last year. Though an increase, it would be well below 2011 fall enrollment.
"Overall the numbers at HBCUs are up, depending on the institution," Gasman said.
Wade said GSU has recruited international students over the last decade.
"About 10 years ago, we had different pipelines in the Caribbean," he said. "It's maintained steady growth and in some of the other ethnic categories — we're trying. This would be a very comfortable environment for students other than our traditional African American student."
Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough said all HBCUs should see an increase this upcoming school year because of the negative media surrounding race relations at predominately white institutions.
Though enrollment at Dillard has been down for several years, the liberal-arts institution projects a fall 2016 enrollment of 1,300 students — which would be an increase of 115 students.
"I expect to see an increase in HBCU enrollment throughout the nation," he said. "People are looking at HBCUs differently now. Do I want to go to school at a place where I might be in a hostile environment? University of Missouri had a national story about race relations.
"It's going to be harder for places to diversify their student body because of the negative things that have happened, and HBCUs have benefited from that."
The lower cost of attending an HBCU has also sparked an interest, Gasman said.
"Another reason is low tuition, there has been a lot of national attention about tuition costs and HBCUs boast tuition that is 50 percent less than majority institutions," she said.
Southern University System officials said targeted recruitment campaigns, an innovative alumni enrollment initiative and creative recruitment strategies have helped boost enrollment at all SU campuses.
SUSLA Connect, a program created by the SU system in 2013, allows students who are unable to meet admission requirements at the Baton Rouge or New Orleans campus to be admitted to Southern University Shreveport.
"Nearly 90 percent of students who don't meet the SU Baton Rouge or SU New Orleans admissions standards are invited to participate in the program," said SU System spokesman Henry Tillman.
How we got here
Within the last few years, historically black colleges and universities in Louisiana experienced a decline or fluctuating numbers when it came to student enrollment each fall.
Professors and chancellors say the enrollment decline stemmed from the lack of available funding and resources, limited access to Parent Plus loans and more students wanting to diversify their education.
"With the push for integration of historically white institutions during the Civil Rights Movement, enrollment dropped at HBCUs and their role of educating the near entirety of the black middle class shifted," Gasman's "The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities" 2013 report stated.
In 1950, black students made up 100 percent of the enrollment at HBCUs.
By 1980, that number dropped to 80 percent as more Hispanic, Asian, and Caucasian students began attending HBCUs, which were specifically created to educate black citizens decades after the Civil War, according to Gasman's report.
Kimbrough said enrollment numbers for HBCUs declined when the U.S. Department of Education changed the borrowing rules and credit standards associated with Parent Plus Loans for undergraduate students in 2011.
Before the changes were implemented, Kimbrough said parents were able to obtain a Parent Plus loan if they didn't have a bad credit history involving more than 90-day delinquencies, foreclosures and bankruptcies.
In 2011, charge-off accounts, or accounts in collections that weren't being repaid within five years, hindered many families from being approved.
In 2012-13, enrollment numbers for black students decreased more than other race because of the Parent Plus Loan situation, according to a report issued by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
In Louisiana, that translated to an enrollment drop of 124 students at Dillard University.
"A lot of students were able to get parent plus loans and then all of sudden they weren't," Kimbrough said. “It wasn’t just HBCUs; it impacted any sector that has a significant portion of low-income students.”
The Parent Plus loan situation also caused problems for Xavier University, a private HBCU in New Orleans.
Richard Tucker, director of communications and media relations, said the institution lost more than 200 students after the rules changed.
In 2011, the university enrolled 3,399 students and in fall 2012, only 3,178 students enrolled.
"It caused similar problems at colleges across the nation," he said." The U.S. Department of Education has since reinstated the previous rules, but damage was done.
Is there value in an HBCU education
HBCUs were created to educate black students, especially when Jim Crow laws and segregation took a toll on the black community.
Xavier University became a four-year college in 1925. It still holds the recognition as the only historically black Catholic university in the U.S.
In 1901, Grambling State University was founded. Cheyney University in Pennsylvania was founded in 1837 as the Institute for Colored Youth and is known as the earliest founding date of any HBCU, according to African American Registry.
Higher education professors and chancellors say black college and universities, both private and public, are vital to the success of all students and needed to ensure historical values are up-kept.
Incoming GSU freshman Sarah Walker always knew she wanted to attend an HBCU.
"Grambling State University was one of the first HBCUs to reach out to me," said the Ohio resident. "I'm the only one out of my graduation class that went to an HBCU. I don't think a lot of them wanted to leave home yet and I really wanted a new experience."
Some students saw more value in attending non-HBCUs.
Parkway High School graduate and incoming LSU freshman, Andrianna Williams, said she wants to have a diverse college experience and have more minority privileges, such as scholarships.
"In this day and age, college is expensive and with the TOPS program on the line, I can't afford it," she said. "The only offers I had for HBCU schools were lower in education standards than LSU, which is crucial for me since I'm going for pre-med."
In order to retain students and continue increasing enrollment numbers, HBCUs need to make sure students understand the value of attending, Gasman said.
"You need to communicate why the institution is a good place for an African American and what it can offer," she said. "Majority institutions are constantly talking about the outcomes and why it's a special place. You can't just assume because someone is black that they're going to come to an HBCU."
By the numbers ; total enrollment 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Xavier University 3,399 3,178 3,121 2,976 2,969
Southern University and A&M College 6,904 6,611 6,730 6,188 6,510
Southern University in Shreveport 2,820 2,931 3,016 2,936 3,222
Southern University in New Orleans 3,245 3,046 2,989 2,674 2,709
Southern University Law Center 707 755 682 635 620
Dillard University 1,249 1,307 1,183 1,200 1,185
Grambling State University 5,207 5,277 5,071 4, 504 4,553