GREENSBORO, N.C. — Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, have been molding the minds of Black students since the days of segregation, Jim Crow, and “separate but equal.” They’ve never really gotten equal funding or recognition. But they’ve persevered, and today many are experiencing record enrollment.
“My mom went to Spelman and was like ‘I’m really going to challenge you to look at some HBCUs,’” says North Carolina A&T senior Courtney Baskerville.
Aggie Pride is real.
“It’s the perfect fit. I can’t see myself anywhere else,” she says.
And it runs deep.
“Both my parents went here,” says senior Brenda Caldwell. “Most of my aunts and uncles went here. My grandma taught here and my grandfather was the band director here for like 30 years. So I basically grew up coming to GHOE, coming to band practices and Battle of the Bands.”
Caldwell is a Greensboro native. She tells us she wanted to get away. But junior year of high school she decided a HBCU was the right move for her.
“I think it was right after Michael Brown. I wanted to be surrounded by people who could share that experience with me.”
According to researchers at Rutgers University, over the past three years HBCUs have seen record applications and enrollment. They point to an increase in race-based harassment on predominantly white campuses and the overall racial climate in America.
“There is the constant question around why is there a need for HBCUs today,” says Chancellor Harold Martin.
Chancellor Martin says HBCUs have to defend their worth in a way other schools do not. But the results, like record enrollment for the fifth straight year and rising national rankings, speak for themselves.
“It’s easy for me to sell a bright student and their family for example when I can say to them graduates of our university earn as young professionals the second highest starting salary of any university in the UNC system, second only to NC State.”
He tells FOX8 the university got around 30,000 applications this year. When he first took over in 2009, it was between 6,000 and 7,000. People unfamiliar with the university may not realize about 20 percent of the students are not Black.
“It’s my second year here and it’s the best decision I ever made,” Nathan Monteith tells us.
Nathan Monteith is a junior from Virginia. He is white, but went to a predominantly Black high school.
“When I came here there were people that of course have assumptions when they see somebody that’s not their color, when they see somebody white at an HBCU and they’ll give you a type of look. But at the end of the day it’s all respect between everybody.”
He transferred here from Coastal Carolina last year.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Monteith says. “I’ve always tried to keep myself educated, especially being a white person at an HBCU it was my role to become more educated on everybody else’s lives. I’ve always tried to make sure I understand the other person because that’s how you better understand society…is knowing where they come from, their background, their struggles.”
Everyone we talked to for this story agreed the growing diversity on campus is great for everyone.
“When these bright students who come to our university leave our university they will be leading teams building their careers in very diverse corporate organizations, state and federal organizations, very diverse,” explains Chancellor Martin.
“The best thing about A&T as a school, in general, and the Black community they’re very community-oriented,” says Monteith. “They want to see everybody succeed regardless of your background or what you look like.”
“So you have different types of students accomplishing different types of things, which helps the university in the long run,” Baskerville adds.
And as different faces are welcomed onto campus, one thing will remain the same.
“We’re a very proud HBCU. We really are,” says Martin.
And they always will be.