As a high school teacher, I have noticed that a few of my students, many of which are sophomores, have been bringing in college letters from universities that are beginning to recruit them. At my school, we are intentional with celebrating each time a letter is received. Yet, I have not seen a single letter from an HBCU for any of my students. Although it is great that students are being contacted and prompted to think about college so early, I could not help but think about how HBCUs are not reaching out to these students. PWIs are hard at work, they are sending recruiters, sending reminder letters, and they are advertising frequently. Students have enthusiastically shared how they are looking forward to the institutions that have remained in constant contact with them since the beginning of their sophomore years. I can’t help but ask HBCUs, where are the recruitment letters? Where are the guest speakers and advertisements to the high school students informing them of the option to choose the type of university they would like? Consider the many students who are unfamiliar with the wealth of knowledge and positive experiences HBCUs provide. With the current socio-political climate, now is the time for HBCUs to step up to the plate and begin reaching out to younger students to encourage them to consider their institution as an option.
I could sit and add to the persecution of HBCUs, as is popular these days. Many are aware of the lacking resources at these institutions, and I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge institutional structural challenges that deter such recruitment efforts to exist. However, I do believe that there are innovative and cost-efficient ways to best share the mission and vision of these illustrious institutions with younger students.
Let’s consider the following:
Social Media Engagement: What about taking advantage of and leveraging technology by recruiting through the use of social media? In this digital era, it is much easier, and cheaper to advertise and reach out to high school students via digital media platforms. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat all give quick access to eager eyes and ears, this is an easy way to connect. For example, how could YouTube be used to micro-target students? Using social media as a method for recruiting can be beneficial to HBCUs as they strive to educate the next generation of Black students.
Alumni Outreach: HBCUs should reconsider the use of alumni who are willing to support the schools through their own personal organizations, giving their personal time, and those willing to make connections with school districts and other K-12 systems. Many secondary schools allow guest speakers to conduct “teach-ins” as well as volunteer opportunities in middle and high schools. These can be opportunities for alumni to share the mission of your institution and encourages former HBCU students to be ambassadors to their alma maters, further expanding the institutional reach.
Events for Freshmen and Sophomores: Developing events specifically for high school sophomores and freshmen, even middle school students, such as a “visit a HBCU day” (as most universities already target juniors and seniors) could widen the knowledge and interest in such schools. Moreover, some middle schools already have college trips each year as well as end-of-year trips in and out of state; HBCUs could be a targeted effort. Additionally, considering how your institution could partner with specific K-12 organizations to develop a more organic relationship is also another way to connect young students to the mission of your institution. Although higher education is a different entity than K-12, the two entities could further collaborate and establish innovative initiatives and programming that could potentially increase funding opportunities, particularly aimed at high school freshmen and sophomores. There are a myriad of summer programs that allow minority students to experience HBCUs. For example, Jackson State University in Mississippi hosts at least four K-12 summer programs, including a program related to STEM. Howard University also has a pre-college summer program. In 2015 the Verizon Innovative Learning Program for Minority Males was launched to support HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions further expose younger males of color to new technology and mentorship. Purdue University and Florida A&M University also engages in programs for students from grades 10-12. Many of these programs are over the summer and some of these programs have costs, so grants should be sought to deter the financial strain on the students and to further eliminate financial obstacles to HBCU matriculation. Extending these innovative ideas yearlong would also be beneficial for all students. A direct focus from policymakers and administrators in funding and supporting with necessary resources would encourage and motivate other institutions and bring positive attention to the impact of these universities.
A friend of mine declared strongly that I had no “dog in the fight” of HBCUs, as I never attended one. She, a graduate of and a strong advocate for these colleges, always spoke highly of her knowledge and HBCU experience. For a minute, I thought maybe she was right, but I later realized that I too had a voice; I am just offering a different perspective. I feel completely convicted in my thoughts of supporting HBCUs, as I would like the future of my children to be filled with the knowledge and experiences associated with such legacies. In order for this to happen, HBCUs must begin thinking innovatively about how to best recruit the next generation of students.
Shalander Samuels is currently a high school English teacher and adjunct professor. Her research interests include English Speakers of Other Languages’ (ESOL) achievement and gaps in learning as well as creating unique literacy intervention programs in majority-minority communities. She is keen on developing varying ways to connect higher education and grades K-12 research, especially in urban areas. Shalander has written educational materials and presented at national and international conferences, she has also coordinated research forums that focus on literacy.