What 2020 Census Data Reveals About the Future of HBCU Student Recruitment

The population of the United States is browner, more metropolitan, and shrinking in numbers according to the 2020 Census data, released earlier this week. The report shows what we’ve all known for the last decade, that the prediction of a minority-white nation in 2045 may arrive sooner than scheduled, based upon the number of American residents who classify as multi-racial.

From the Associated Press:

People who identify as a race other than white, Black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander — either alone or in combination with one of those races — jumped to 49.9 million people, surpassing the Black population of 46.9 million people as the nation’s second-largest racial group, according to the Census Bureau.

So what do the numbers mean for historically Black colleges and universities? Here are four takeaways from the Census data.

  1. HBCUs will have a bigger student pool in their backyards — Southern migration is the new wave according to census data, with ten of the nation’s fastest-growing cities in the south, particularly in Texas, Florida, and Tennessee. Costs for recruiting should be easier, out-of-state enrollment a little more manageable, and alumni engagement a little more expected given the growth of population and wealth in unexpected places.

  2. Recruiting adult learners is priority one for HBCUsThe population of adults 18 years or older grew by more than 25 million over the last decade, while the group 18 and young declined by more than 1 million. This suggests that online learning, satellite campuses, flex, and competency-based learning curriculum will be more of a priority for institutions looking to keep pace with enrollment trends among working adults.

  3. HBCUs must immediately get better with multi-cultural recruitment and student engagement — The fastest-growing ethnic groups in the country are, in order, Hispanics, Americans classifying as multi-racial, Black Americans, and Asian-Americans. Recruiting from these groups is one thing, but welcoming, retaining, and graduating them is another. Will HBCUs be able to hire faculty and staff that better reflect the changing demographics? Will students and alumni feel that the ‘HBCU experience’ is being lost with any increases in non-Black student populations?

  4. Watch for redistricting — The new Census data will determine two key things that mean a lot for HBCU student recruitment: where schools will be constructed and students located, and which elected officials will represent redrawn legislative districts. These areas are both meaningful for how HBCUs deploy tuition reduction or scholarship support programs based upon geography, and the priorities that will be set for these programs by the people elected from these districts. It will be up to HBCU students and alumni to advocate for legislative support of HBCU student access development, and HBCU executives to set the details for how these programs function and grow.