Presidents of the nation’s Historic Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) are under increased economic and political pressures to lead their schools in a time of social change. One indicator of this is the brief period of time that HBCU presidents retain their positions. The average length of time a president serves a black institution is six years compared to eight years for presidents at predominantly white institutions. Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Servicing Institutions, says about one in six of the nation’s HBCUs don’t have a permanent president.
Herman Felton, Jr, President of Wilberforce University (Ohio), co-started a foundation to train aspiring HBCU presidents and administrators. He listed the greatest challenges for HBCU presidents as managing the school’s finances, raising money, and maintaining enrollment. Felton also noted that in some cases the presidents were not good fits with their school’s board of trustees (board), and that in many other cases, the president and board had different visions for the school. Finally, he cited “micro-managing” by the board as a potential problem.
According to the U.S. Department of education, there are 107 HBCUs – institutions of higher learning that were established before 1964 with the purpose of primarily serving the black community. The majority of these schools were established shortly after the Civil War, in states that had formerly been slave states. They are a varied group, consisting of public and private schools, community (2 year) and 4 year schools, and medical and law schools. Some HBCUs are a ladder to better lives for poorer families because of their lower tuition and their mission to educate less academically-accomplished students. The HBCUs have always admitted students of all races, and at least two of them currently have predominantly white enrollments.