5 Ways to Yield Black Students
When developing a strategy to enroll Black students your first step is to yield. Historically, the Black student experience is riddled with disparities and broken trust, but you can activate change by reflecting and acknowledging your institution’s history with Black students and having the hard conversations. Next, prepare yourself to participate in a public conversation about advancing future Black lives in this country. Finally, secure the resources to build a community where Black students are truly comfortable, welcomed, and embraced.
What We Know
- In 2026, the number of high school graduates will reach their peak resulting in an “enrollment cliff.”
- The census predicts that by 2045 white people will be the minority in the United States. The projected breakdown will be 49.7% for Whites, 24.6% for Hispanics, 13.1% for Blacks, 7.9% for Asians, and 3.8% for multiracial populations. White people are already the minority in the current under-18 population.
- According to a 2023 Marist College poll, 70% of Blacks consider college an important way to get a better job and improve their position in life compared to 65% of whites.
What It Means
The ongoing conversation about an “enrollment cliff” is only scary if you can’t market your institution to non-white students. The Black community is a growing population and the people raising their hands to tell us that college is important. Standing out as an option can save your enrollment strategy. I’ll go further to assert that you have a responsibility to educate the growing population that was historically underserved.
Listen to Black Voices
The institutions with the hardest time yielding Black students typically don’t have the best history supporting Black lives. According to NPR the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement led to an increase in applications and enrollment of Black students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This comes after a period of significant decline. It’s not shocking that Black students chose institutions that supported education for Black students since their inception.
Acknowledge your history and make progress on your values before asking Black students to join your community. What conversations are Black students having about your institution? Are they even having a conversation? What’s the public conversation about equity, diversity, and inclusion on your campus? What’s the private conversation? If you can’t acknowledge the experience of Black people within your campus community, any attempts to yield Black students are inauthentic.
Elevate Black Voices (All the Time)
Telling Black stories in February is like pouring a bottle of water into the ocean. Black students don’t hibernate 11 months of the year so find out what they’re doing on campus and showcase them—all the time. If you need guidance, do exactly what you do with white students. We love our Black athletes, but these aren’t the only stories to tell. Take special note of the intersectionality of identities—there’s more to someone’s story than their race. Highlight the person who is Black rather than showing a Black person.
Baylor University, a Christian institution in Texas, created a podcast tackling the intersectionality of faith and race. This is an authentic space for Black students to tell their stories.
Find, engage, and support your Black alumni network and tell their authentic stories. Your Black alumni can show prospective students how far you’ve come, but more importantly give you the opportunity to tell students how far you want to go.
When students talk about your institution they often don’t tag your institutional accounts. Elevating your strategy from social media monitoring to social listening ensures you’re finding all of the public conversations about your institution. The brand and reputation you might have with the “traditional” student might be different from how you’re perceived by Black students. The key is to listen.
Bring Black Culture
Ask your students what they miss from home. What kind of food do you serve on campus? Fried chicken is delicious for everyone but dig deeper into cuisine and flavors. Remember your Black Caribbean Americans and their distinct culture. Ensure your Black students have access to the right toiletries. Is there a barber on or near campus who is experienced in cutting Black hair? These little things are everything when a Black person makes their college choice.
At Virginia Tech University, an on-campus barbershop created a safe cultural space for Black men to spark conversation and create belonging.
Partner with Black Students
Black students want to know there’s a place for them at your institution. They engage on social media and tell your stories everyday—partner with them and pay them! Building a diverse influencer program is not the future of recruitment efforts, it’s the present.
Greek life isn’t for everyone but there’s an undeniable connection between Black fraternities and sororities and the Black student experience. After being barred from joining existing Greek organizations, a small number of Black students from mainly HBCUs formed their own sororities and fraternities in the early twentieth century. These organizations are known collectively as the National Pan-Hellenic Council or the “Divine Nine.” Enhance these organizations with your reach and resources rather than have them be a private society completely unassociated with your institution. Creating or deepening a relationship with the fraternities and sororities of the “Divine Nine” will have a large impact on the Black student experience on your campus, you just need to be strategic about how you showcase and leverage these organizations.
Bowie State President, Dr. Aminta H. Breaux used her Twitter account to recognize the support these organizations bring to their basketball games. This is common practice at an HBCU, and is a strategy presidents and other campus leaders at predominantly white institutions can easily adopt.
The @BowieState Bulldogs were honored to welcome the Divine Nine sororities and fraternities and the @BSUNAA to the cheer on the Bulldogs. We thank them all for the excitement and the support they brought to the WBB and MBB games today. pic.twitter.com/f3hJ7SYMNk— Dr. Aminta H. Breaux (@PresBreaux) February 5, 2023
You can’t control how many Black students choose your campus but you can impact the diversity of your community by hiring Black staff and faculty at every level. Hire them in areas where their identity isn’t tokenized or the primary focus. In 2021, the State Doctoral Scholars Program of Oregon State University did a study that explored the lack of diversity in faculty across U.S. institutions. Black faculty representation fell from 5.5% to 4% of all faculty in colleges and universities. If you can’t find a pool of qualified Black candidates for your positions, check where you’re advertising and promoting the openings. Ensuring fair compensation for your Black talent is equally as important.
I hope this goes without saying but hiring Black staff in marketing and communications is essential to connect with the Black community. A successful marketing campaign should be an effortless conversation between you and your target audience. A Black marketer can ensure that you’re speaking the same language in the right place to reach your Black audience. To find Black talent I suggest posting your open roles on Hire Black Marketers. I was excited to see Syracuse University’s post for new Director-level openings.
Supporting local Black businesses increases your visibility in the Black community and builds trust. Many predominantly white institutions have more than enough talented Black minds who might submit an application but will choose an institution that feels more familiar.
Increasing diversity makes your campus more desirable. I won’t speak for other races, but if you want to make strides in Black student enrollment, you can’t scrape the surface. It takes a multi-departmental approach to build an honest relationship with Black prospective and admitted students. Start by listening to Black people.
Register for our June webinar when we'll continue the conversation about the demographic shift and how higher ed can move forward by centering strategy on minority students and adult learners.