Nov 06 2023

How Tech Infrastructure Can Keep Up with Rising HBCU Enrollment

Historically Black colleges and universities are experiencing growth in the face of an overall higher ed enrollment decline. But to maintain that pace, institutions must have the technology in place to ensure retention and boost graduation rates.

The higher education enrollment crisis in the U.S. has affected colleges and universities of all sizes, from the smallest community colleges to the largest public and private institutions.

In a time of mounting challenges, though, there are some silver linings. Many colleges and universities have become more reactive to students’ wants and needs, especially when it comes to teaching and learning modalities. Others are partnering with local business and government organizations to deliver instruction that is tailored to put students in the best position to succeed in their careers once their educational journey ends.

There is at least one segment of higher education that is bucking the overall trend. The student populations at historically Black colleges and universities have surged in the past few years, with HBCU enrollments up as much as 57 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and applications jumping 30 percent from 2018 to 2021.

And, there might be even more students coming. Some experts have suggested that this year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that effectively ends affirmative action and race-based college admission practices could steer more Black students away from predominantly white institutions and toward HBCUs.

Surging enrollment, of course, is a terrific thing for HBCUs and presents an incredible opportunity for these institutions to secure their future. But there are new challenges that come with that opportunity. HBCUs have an overall graduation rate of just 35 percent, and if these institutions are going to take advantage of the explosion in student interest, they’re going to need to keep students more engaged, connected and successful in the classroom, all the way to graduation.

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What Tech Can Help HBCUs Boost Retention and Graduation Rates?

Students’ expectations for technology access have never been higher. The proliferation of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic proved how well universities can — or cannot —provide instruction when students aren’t in the classroom. Meanwhile, increased technology spending in K–12 districts has given students a taste of what they could see during their college years.

The expectation is that colleges and universities will offer students at least as much in the way of in-room audiovisual tools, learning management systems, flexible furniture and more that they experienced in high school.

The same goes for instructors. The most successful classroom modernization projects consider student success through the lens of instructors and students, and they should include pedagogical considerations for how to get the most out of the technology investments made in those classrooms.

Virtual reality and immersive learning tools can also help HBCUs boost student persistence. Engaging with such tools gives students memorable experiences, and immersive learning’s place in STEM education is already a strength for HBCUs in the college marketplace. Around 25 percent of Black STEM graduates come from HBCUs.

Beyond the tech tools, HBCUs also must ensure their network backbones are strong enough to keep up with rising enrollments. More students on campus means more devices that will need to be connected. Users expect ubiquitous connectivity across campus, and nothing frustrates them quite like a shoddy connection. Conducting a Wi-Fi site survey can help institutions understand where and how their networks might be coming up short.

Increase IT Staffing to Keep Up with Technology Demands

HBCUs’ increasing enrollments bring more of just about everything: more devices, more software, more bandwidth, more security tools, more cyber risk and ultimately more IT staff to get a firm handle on everything.

Unfortunately, staffing higher education IT departments hasn’t been easy lately. Colleges and universities are facing challenges with staff retention. The constant need to hire and train new employees creates a perpetual game of catch-up when trying to coach those new staffers on the nuances of their institution and its network environment.

Services like staff augmentation and automation provided by CDW and its partners are designed to help institutions fill in short or long-term gaps in staffing without any interruptions. Also, managed services — whether for devices, procurement or security management — can take some of the responsibilities out of the hands of employees and turn them over to a trusted vendor partner.

With more of everything coming to HBCUs, now is a time of tremendous opportunity. Planning today to take advantage of enrollment gains is the best way for these institutions to maintain that growth and ensure their future in a time of uncertainty for higher education.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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