HBCUs today are vulnerable and the historical mission of HBCUs continue to be challenged particularly as budgetary and enrollment challenges persist. HBCUs simply are having a tough time making the case for their relevancy. As a result, only about 11% of African-American college students attend HBCUs compared to 70-85% in the 1970s, and marketing and branding or a lack thereof has a lot to do with it.
The number one mistake that HBCUs are making is not being able to effectively communicate a stronger value proposition of an HBCU education. In other words, HBCUs make the mistake of not telling their story and failing to write a new story that will convey their historical purpose for today’s audience. Consequently, many of today’s Black students are not clear on the purpose of HBCUs nor do they feel the connection or see the value in choosing an HBCU education over a predominantly white institution (PWI).
So what is the common value proposition that HBCUs share besides the history and mission? It’s the culture, experience, personal attention, and community approach to education. HBCUs can communicate this value proposition by repackaging their core message so that it not only communicates the school’s history but also encompasses its strongest assets, the on-campus culture, and the students themselves, and deliver this messaging through an organic PR and media strategy and a strategic communications plan. HBCUs should also emphasize the unique and pivotal role that it continues to play in American education and that a degree from an HBCU is as valuable as a degree from any other institution.
The only way for HBCUs to overcome enrollment woes is to reposition their universities and not rely on what has worked in the past. These schools must be creative and innovative in attracting students and making the case for choosing their HBCU vs another. Only when HBCUs can be more holistic in the marketing approach to make a strong case for their value proposition will they begin to see a noticeable turnaround in some of the recent challenges.