Forwarding A Dream Deferred on HBCU Campuses

Forwarding A Dream Deferred on HBCU Campuses

Key Takeaways from College Board’s Latest Conference

Last month, BridgeEdU joined College Board and the HBCU community at A Dream Deferred conference in Texas. The event began with a screening of All The Difference. The film, produced in part by BridgeEdU’s founder, Wes Moore, animated the journey of two teens from the South Side of Chicago on their way from high school through college graduation. We watched as the story of Robert Henderson and Krishaun Branch, both first-generation college students, revealed the same challenges that many BridgeEdU and HBCU scholars face. After the film, conference attendees convened to share and discuss methods for alleviating the invisible struggles African American youth face on the path to achieving their academic dreams.

The conversations and knowledge shared throughout the community inspired us to reflect on our strategies and how we can better support retention efforts on HBCU campuses. We are sharing critical takeaways from the event below to clarify the guiding principles revealed at the conference for strengthening retention strategies on HBCU campuses, celebrate innovative solutions happening on HBCU campuses across the nation, and identify what threatens HBCU growth in an increasingly competitive higher education industry.


BridgeEdU team members join Urban Prep alumni Krishaun Branch and Robert Henderson following a panel discussion about All The Difference

Identifying the Work on HBCU Campuses

At the conference, HBCU leaders came together and identified primary objectives to improve a campus’ capacity to support students equitably:

    • Establish data-gathering protocols and teacher training methodologies with clearly defined KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and higher quality reporting practices that tie back to clearly defined SMART goals. Session: Developing a Data-Driven Strategy to Reach Your College Access Goals
    • Build college familiarity. We must break down the barriers between secondary and post-secondary education for students well before they come to campus. Session: Bridging Student Support Efforts– A Wraparound Approach to College Success
    • Talk about difficult issues and honor that academic achievement is not an isolated object in a child’s life. By crafting more diplomatic and conversational communication channels between school systems, families, and with the students, schools can better identify and help students overcome barriers to learning beyond the classroom. Session: Lunch Panel Discussion with Prairie View A&M University President- Ruth Simmons and Chief officer of strategy and support at the Chicago Public Schools- Elizabeth Kirby
    • Meet students where they are academically rather than where the literature says they should be. Educators should be held accountable for helping the student improve their academic skill level rather than performing for specific benchmarks. Session: Lunch Panel Discussion with Prairie View A&M University President- Ruth Simmons and Chief officer of strategy and support at the Chicago Public Schools- Elizabeth Kirby
  • Craft more culturally responsive learning communities that engage and include our students. Plans shared include open notebook policies, pre-college programming, improving class content relevance and teacher attitude. Sessions: Propelling the Dream: Reinforcing Black Student Success and Engagement, Creating a Culturally Responsive, College-Going Culture for Young Men of Color

For more on strategies to increase and improve student retention rates on HBCU campuses click here.

Get Inspired

Check out the list below to see what innovative solutions are improving enrollment and retention rates on HBCU campuses around the country:

Morgan State University: Prioritizing career training and experiential learning. Morgan State is partnering with local employers to create a pipeline of careers for its graduates.

Paul Quinn College: President Michael Sorrell turned the university’s football field into a two-acre organic farm to help students understand the expectations of a career, engage in the community, and lower college costs.  

Prairie View A&M University: Ruth Simmons, the university’s new president, is reorganizing Prairie View’s fundraising strategy by her previous post-secondary leadership experience (which includes being the first black president of an Ivy League College). She’ll put in place a new and rigorous plan to increase and diversify funding sources.

The SEED Foundation: The SEED Foundation partners with urban communities to build college prep programs. For the SEED School in Miami, eligible students are 200% below the poverty line and have a high-risk factor (i.e., one parent incarcerated). College graduation rates for SEED students are well above the national average. The signature school model features boarding opportunities to support a 24-hour learning community.

The Carolina Cluster Pathway Program (CP2P): received part of a $35.4 million to establish career pathways for students and prepare them for success. Strategic career planning, academic support, and integrated co-curricular engagement are all features of the program. The organization will also include corporate and public advisory boards.

Preparing for an Uncertain Future

If you have an interest in making education more equitable, the condition of many HBCUs is critical. These institutions serve majority Pell-eligible and first-gen students, which means their capacity for success directly impacts whether underserved students reach their academic goals or remain on the far side of an achievement gap. It also means HBCUs intimately understand the challenges facing first-gen and low-income students. With such familiarity, what is getting in the way of success on so many HBCU campuses? What prevents these campuses from thriving?

No one at the conference shied away from the fact that HBCUs no longer hold a monopoly on African American students and professors, and as a result, are declining in number. The breakout session titled, The Relevance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities Today, clearly identified factors that lead to HBCU closings: increased competition among schools, reduced K-12 pipeline, changing student learning measures, and shifts in Federal, State, and local financial aid policies. But the foundation of an institution’s wellbeing is the student experience, and there is no getting around the enormous amount of work it takes to address student needs, individually and comprehensively.

During his welcome address to the conference, Texas Southern University’s President, Austin A. Lane articulated, and the HBCU community agreed, that improving student success and the future of HBCUs depends upon developing the following areas:

(1) student success and completion
(2) academic program quality and research
(3) culture
(4) partnerships
(5) finances

These are the same areas on which the team at BridgeEdU focuses. Our work is to join postsecondary institutions and their partners to build data-driven, targeted student programming that specifically addresses the granular challenges first-gen and Pell-eligible students face on campuses. Supporting these students of promise is a worthy investment, and we recognize you are hard-pressed to quantify your efforts. So, we invite you to request our free ROI calculator to see what you can gain by partnering with BridgeEdU.