Can HBCUs and Fundamentalist U Learn from Each Other?

Is there a common denominator? It is not easy these days to be a small college or university. Both public and private colleges are closing their doors. It seems as if some purpose-built institutions, such as historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and evangelical colleges might be able to learn from one another.

Ken Ham hooded at Bryan

Desperate times at Bryan College

Both are in tight spots. Evangelical colleges like Bryan College in Tennessee, for instance, has slashed tuition in the face of dropping enrollments. And many HBCUs find themselves, in the words of a recent report,

facing existential threats and will need to be transformed, reinvigorated, to ensure that their futures are as vibrant as their pasts.

In addition to the usual financial pressures facing all institutions of higher education, HBCUs and evangelical colleges find themselves losing students due, in part, to broader trends in American culture. Some evangelical college—like Gordon College near Boston—have had a hard time convincing evangelical families to pony up extra money for a uniquely evangelical experience. And some HBCUs find themselves in a new competition for African-American students with historically white universities.

The news is not all bad. Some evangelical institutions—like Trevecca Nazarene in Nashville—have plenty of students. And some HBCUs—like the well-endowed Spelman College—are not on the verge of closing.

spelman

Doing fine…

Moreover, both HBCUs and evangelical colleges can hope for financial fillips by taking advantage of their unique cultural niches. Gordon College, for example, recently attracted a huge donation by emphasizing the school’s cultural conservatism. And HBCUs can hope for more public support, based on the promises of leading Democratic candidates such as Elizabeth Warren.

But both types of schools would be wise to heed the advice of a recent report about HBCUs. As it recommended,

The schools will need to further engage alumni beyond homecoming events and Greek life. It may also be helpful for them to create broader marketing campaigns — to lobby school counselors and state departments of education to better explain the richness of HBCUs — explicitly encouraging students of other races to apply as well.

Similarly, evangelical colleges would be wise to explore possible pools of students who might be interested in their unique type of higher education. Beyond evangelical families, who else might be interested in a college that promises a conservative Christian consensus among its faculty? Conservative Catholics? Conservatives in mainline Protestant churches? International evangelical organizations?

The numbers don’t have to be enormous to make an enormous impact. With yet another evangelical college closing its doors this semester, evangelical leaders will need to do something, fast.

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