06/26/2013 02:41 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

What Historically Black Colleges and Universities Must Do To Regain Market Share

As I sat down to write this blog posting, I must admit that I was distracted by the "breaking news" that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down a major provision of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Without an appreciation for what political participation was like for African Americans, especially Southerners, prior to the passage of VRA, it is difficult for one to fully appreciate the significance, the negative effects, of today's Court decision. If there is any truth to the notion that some actions provoke the dead to turn over in their graves, I'm confident that my parents, Eddie and Carrie Nelms, are two restless souls today. For them, voting was synonymous with what it meant to be an American citizen, in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. While yesterday's Court action may have disturbed their rest, it has strengthened my resolve to be an agent of change. Moreover, it is my hope that the Court's action will propel all people of goodwill, irrespective of race, creed or gender, to become active politically.

Returning to the central theme of this posting, what HBCUs must do to regain market share, an analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics IPEDS Enrollment Files, showed that the total number of African Americans enrolled at bachelor degree granting institutions increased from 945,306 students in 2000 to 1,705,605, or 80 percent, in 2011. For this same period, HBCU enrollment increased from 212,073 to 232,611, or 10 percent, while Community Colleges offering 4-Year degrees enjoyed an increase, from 6,151 to 92,105, or 1397 percent, and For-Profit Institutions experienced an increase of 830 percent, from 40,231 to 374,096. In the context of market share, HBCU s declined by 9 percent and For-Profit Institutions increased by 18 percent. While a careful analysis of these data yields a nuanced understanding of the shifts in enrollment patterns in higher education generally, it becomes increasingly clear that successful efforts to diversify enrollments at majority-serving institutions have had a negative impact at HBCUs, specifically.

The essence of the integration movement in higher education was to ensure that students had an opportunity to enroll at a college or university that could best meet their interests and educational needs rather than being cosigned to enrolling at an HBCU only -- which was the generally case when I entered college in 1965. When my son entered college in 1997, his choices were limited only by his ability to meet the admission requirements of his chosen university.

As chancellor of an HBCU, I spent some portion of every day concerned about how to ensure the retention and graduation of students who had chosen to enroll at our institution. I am convinced that HBCUs can and must take the following actions to regain market share in higher education:

1. Embrace change;
2. Clearly define and articulate the institution's value proposition;
3. Create and sustain a service culture based on unswerving respect for the students;
4. Actively and consistently engage alumni in telling the institution's story;
5. Ensure that excellence permeates the institution, not just one or two programs;
6. Review and upgrade academic programs to ensure that graduates gain employment or
admission to graduate and professional schools;
7. Improve the aesthetic appeal of the institution;
8. Invest resources in strategic marketing;
9. Establish a substantive outreach presence in key communities from which students are
drawn; and
10. Work collaboratively with other colleges and universities, foundations, corporations and community-based agencies.

If HBCUs are to succeed in regaining student market share, they must close the gap between espoused excellence and the existing reality. The failure to do so will result in the continued loss of students who have traditionally enrolled at HBCUs.