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Author Myrlie Evers-Williams is a trailblazer as an activist for civil rights

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Enrollment of white students on rise at historically black colleges

February 14, 2001
Web posted at: 4:26 PM EST (2126 GMT)

In this story:

'Competition for students is horrendous'

Regional demographics play a role

Student News Archive

BLUEFIELD, West Virginia (CNN) -- Nestled in the mountains of West Virginia is Bluefield State College, a historically black college created at the end of the 19th century to educate teachers.

What's striking is, of the 2,400 students here, African-Americans are a small minority.

"As far as knowing that it's a black college, you wouldn't ...," said Derrick Younger, a junior at the school. "You wouldn't notice that because it's predominantly white."

  • Changing with the times
  • Boom in college enrollment by minorities seen

    Freshman Barbara Lewis said, "It's kind of weird, for lack of a better word, because you would think there would tend to be more blacks."

    Of the nation's 105 historically black colleges and universities, Bluefield State has the largest white enrollment. Whites make up 91 percent of the students and 96 percent of the faculty.

    College President Robert Moore says, "The problem that we find ourselves in now -- and we've been in this situation for some 35 years -- (is) that the black ... student population has declined to the point that it's quite difficult to attract others to come to this institution."

    Moore is white. The school last had an African-American president

    in 1965.

    'Competition for students is horrendous'

    Bluefield State is not alone. Two other historically black schools are now majority white. West Virginia State College is 87 percent white, and Lincoln University in Missouri is 67 percent white. Others are creeping up; Kentucky State University is 42 percent white.

    While historically black colleges make up only 3 percent of the colleges and universities in the United States, they award 27 percent of the bachelor's degrees earned by black students nationwide.

    And most of the nation's historically black colleges have maintained a large African-American enrollment. At Howard University in Washington, 86 percent of the students are black. But nationally, white enrollment at black colleges has climbed about 30 percent in the past two decades.

    The reasons? White students have realized that historically black colleges can cost half as much as other schools, and declining black student enrollment has forced many black colleges to recruit students of all races.

    "The competition for students is horrendous," says Henry Ponder of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. "Everyone wants good students now."

    Regional demographics play a role

    Regional demographics have also played a role in the changes at Bluefield State. The African-American population in the two surrounding counties has dropped more than 50 percent in the past half century. African-Americans make up just 3 percent of West Virginia's population.

    But even with so few blacks on campus, Moore says the school's mission is the same as it was 100 years ago. "It was founded to afford people to get an education. That philosophy still exists."

    Still, there's a feeling something has been lost. Roderick Neal, one of the school's three black teachers, said, "A lot of students are familiar with the history of the historically black college." But do they appreciate that history? "I personally don't feel that they do," he said.

    Keeping that history alive is important to Robin Davis, the president of the only black sorority at Bluefield State. Once a popular group on campus, it now has only four members.

    "Maybe we could increase our numbers if there were more blacks," she said. "I think it's important that we continue that tradition; don't let it die down."

    Bluefield State College
    West Virginia State College
    Kentucky State University
    Howard University College of Medicine

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