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Affirmative action ruling could boost enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities

Central State University HBCU
Posted at 4:53 PM, Jul 27, 2023

The effect of last month’s Supreme Court decision on affirmative action is still reverberating across the country. News 5 Anchor Courtney Gousman sought to find out how the ruling might impact campus diversity and learned there may be an unintended effect. With race no longer a factor in college admissions, the ruling could push more students to consider historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

The first HBCU in the country was created in 1837, Cheyney University in Pennsylvania. Dozens more schools were then created to educate people of African descent. Today, 107 HBCUs exist. Gousman obtained her bachelor’s degree from Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia. There are two HBCUs here in Ohio. Gousman spoke with the provost at Central State University. F. Erik Brooks.

“We’ve got a very strong liberal arts program,” Brooks said. “We are emerging as a leader in STEM.”

Brooks was at Harvard University, one of the schools implicated in that Supreme Court case, the day the decision came down. He was on the campus for a fellowship program for administrators in higher education when he learned the high court had effectively dismantled affirmative action in college admissions.

“The historical racism has taken place when you look at higher ed in America; it is certainly something that we still feel is needed,” Brooks said.

In the Supreme Court’s ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that universities “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

But given the fact that affirmative action helped level the playing field for students of color trying to gain access to more selective schools, which are often predominantly white, Brooks says he feels the Supreme Court ruling will end up boosting HBCU enrollment.

“HBCUs have always been open to all students,” he said. “HBCUs have never turned students down on account of their race.” Enrollment at HBCUs has already been on the rise. The National Center for Education Statistics reports enrollment jumped 57% in 2022. Brooks said Central State has nearly 3,000 students — 95% are Black.

“Some students are saying that they just feel like they’re more welcome at an HBCU,” he said.

Gousman also spoke to the Chief Program Officer of College Now, Dr. Michelle Scott Taylor, in late June after that Supreme Court decision was announced. She agreed with Brooks.

“What I am hoping is that an unintended consequence is that we see a swell of enrollment of students going to HBCUs. Those are institutions that are best designed to serve students' needs,” she said.

Gousman heard the same sentiment from Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Atiba Ellis.

“Students of color who see HBCUs as supporting, who see HBCUs as committed to supporting the history of Black people in this country, may see them as a more attractive alternative,” he said after the Supreme Court decision.

While HBCUs are often considered more cost-effective compared to predominantly white institutions, Brooks said their smaller student body often means less money from state and federal sources.