Why is enrollment on the rise at these 3 small HBCUs: Edward Waters, Wilberforce and Elizabeth City State

Enrollment is on the rise at three small historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Edward Waters University, Wilberforce University, and Elizabeth City State University. At Edward Waters University in Jacksonville, Florida, enrollment has skyrocketed by 30% since 2019, with the university welcoming its largest ever class of 540 new students in 2023. This growth has made Edward Waters the HBCU with the highest enrollment growth in the state. The university has seen record growth in total enrollment, new student admittance, and student retention.

Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest private HBCU, has also experienced a surge in enrollment. The university saw a 29% increase in enrollment for the 2023-2024 academic year, prompting plans for new student housing. New student enrollment has reached a ten-year high, and student retention has improved to 71%. Wilberforce’s remarkable affordability, with tuition of just $12,020 for the 2023-2024 academic year, may be a factor in its growing popularity.

At Elizabeth City State University, enrollment has also been on the rise. The university achieved its highest enrollment in eight years for the fall 2023 semester, with a 4.6% increase in students from the previous year. Growth was seen in most student categories, with first-generation students making up 29% of the student body and military-affiliated students comprising 11.5%. The university’s commitment to increasing enrollment rates and improving financial sustainability has been key to its success.

These three small HBCUs are bucking the trend of declining enrollment at many colleges and universities. Their success in attracting and retaining students is a testament to the value of the HBCU experience and the important role these institutions play in providing access to higher education for students from underrepresented backgrounds.