Despite Programs, Black Enrollment Hits a Wall at S.C. Flagship Universities

John Staed, Independent Mail, March 20, 2010

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At Clemson and at the University of South Carolina, the state’s flagship universities, black enrollment has stagnated. Clemson’s percentage was 6.7 percent this fall. At USC, black enrollment continues to slip, and this year is at 12.5 percent. Twenty years ago, black enrollment at USC was nearly 20 percent.

In a state that is nearly 30 percent black, the numbers are disheartening, some said. And that’s despite concerted efforts, school officials said, to attract and enroll blacks at the two schools.

Clemson’s black enrollment in 2000 was 7 percent, and in 1990 it was 6.6 percent. In 1980, it was 2.6 percent.

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Lynn [Louis Lynn, the only black member of the university’s governing board] said Clemson has numerous programs to attract more black students, including the nationally recognized Call Me Mister program, special summer programs that pair minority high school students and mentors at Clemson, and math programs for minorities, among others.

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The economy, concerns about tuition costs and debt, lower-cost alternatives and other factors are all part of the more-recent reasons black enrollment is stagnating and declining, said Dennis Pruitt, vice president for student affairs at USC.

“There’s been a real redistribution of African-American students across the state of South Carolina,” Pruitt said.

USC’s black enrollment at USC was 16.1 percent in 2000 but declined to 13.4 percent in 2005.

Black–and white–students are shifting to the state’s 16 two-year colleges to save money for the first two years of college. They are looking at lower-cost four-year colleges closer to home. They are getting degrees through for-profit colleges. Black students are looking at historically black colleges as an alternative, too.

And some simply are not attending college.

All of these trends have made a dent in minority enrollment, Pruitt said.

“I think a lot of it has to do with cost,” he said. “We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of students this year applying for financial aid.”

Black student enrollment at the state’s two-year colleges ranges from 96 percent at Denmark Technical College to 15 percent at Tri-County Technical College, which is based in Pendleton, according to 2006 enrollment data.

Karl Reid, United Negro College Fund senior vice president for academic programs and strategic initiatives, said he was surprised at the lower rate of blacks attending Clemson.

But South Carolina is unusual in that it has “some of the richest–in terms of quality and excellence–of the historically black colleges in the Southeast,” Reid [Karl Reid, a United Negro College Fund senior vice president] said.

Claflin University and Benedict and Voorhees colleges are among them, and South Carolina State University is a largely minority public university.

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When enrolling students, USC focuses less on race, Pruitt [Dennis Pruitt, vice president for student affairs at USC] said, and more on socioeconomic background. There are a number of middle- and upper-class blacks at the school, and there are a number of white students whose families are poor, he said.

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USC offers its new Gamecock Guarantee, which is 100 full-ride scholarships to students who meet economic guidelines. The program, started this year, will cover 400 scholarships in all, but could be expanded, officials have said.

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State Rep. David Weeks, a Democrat from Sumter, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said smaller colleges are drawing more students.

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The 2009 freshman class at the university was 8.8 percent black and 78.7 percent white, she said. Overall, the school had about 9 percent enrollment of blacks.

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Chasity Williams, a Clemson freshman from Rock Hill who is black, said she chose Clemson because “it fit me as a person. I’m a very outgoing person, and it fit me.”

Going to a largely white school was her choice, too, because “diversity is one of my passions.”

“In order to learn and have a life spectrum and the best education you can have, you need diversity,” Williams said. “There aren’t a lot of African-Americans at Clemson, but I think it needs to go beyond black and white.”

By becoming exposed to students of many nationalities at Clemson, it helps, she said.

“It also challenges yourself as a person to be put in a position where you have to work with people you are not used to working with,” Williams said. “You have to do that in the real world.”

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The dropout rate, however, plays a role in the number of blacks attending college, said Sylvia Carey-Butler, director of enrollment management for the United Negro College Fund Institute for Capacity Building. A trend has been for fewer black males to graduate from high school, much less enter college.

“Only 29 percent of black young adults enrolled in college, compared to 41 percent of whites,” Carey-Butler said.

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