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The HBCU Marketing Challenge: The HBCU Story

July 23, 2014

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are having a tough time defending their relevancy. From funding cuts at the state and federal level, enrollment woes, and financial mismanagement to the struggle to keep the doors open and save accreditation, HBCUs are making it very easy for anti-HBCU proponents to question if there is still a need today. Recent figures also show that 1 in 4 students at HBCUs are not even black and that only about 11 percent of African-American students opt for an HBCU education as opposed to a time when the obvious choice for most black students was to attend an HBCU.

Besides the stated and obvious reasons, the number one factor that has undoubtedly crippled HBCUs from growing and defending their relevancy is that they’ve lost their story. HBCUs have not done a great job of promoting the very reason why African-Americans attend an HCBU – history, experience, personal touch, pride, and tradition. And the HBCU experience? Practically non-existent as the core message, and for many the core message has not been refreshed in years and hasn’t kept pace with changing demands and competition for today’s college students.

HBCU pride is alive and strong but isn’t being leveraged to its maximum as the number one branding platform. HBCUs also have not done a great job of publicizing their universities and accomplishments and going beyond social to create a multi-layered content strategy to tell its story and promote its university. This ultimately results in black students not having an HBCU education top of mind, hence one of the biggest reasons for declining enrollment at HBCUs.

There is still a strong need for HBCUs and will always be one but without these universities rethinking their HBCU story and creating compelling messages that will connect and hit at the heart of prospective students, we will continue to see some of the challenges that we’ve been seeing. It’s time for HBCUs to throw the ax at their antiquated so called marketing and communications departments and replace with smart marketing that actually works. It’s time for HBCUs to go where their audience is and communicate in a manner that resonates and inspires. It’s time to rethink the HBCU story.

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