Modest Gains for Black Colleges Online

Do historically black colleges and universities need to get serious about online education?

Perhaps, says the latest report from the Digital Learning Lab at Howard University. An increasing number of historically black institutions are wading into the online medium — often with the help of for-profit developers. Still, the vast majority of HBCUs do not offer online programs.

"At this point declining student enrollments pose an existential challenge" for many black colleges, and that should attract more interest in online education, writes Roy Beasley, founder and director of the lab, in the new report.

“In their search for ways to increase their enrollments,” Beasley writes, “the private HBCUs that hitherto have shown little or no interest in meeting the continuing education needs of non-traditional African American students are now giving serious consideration to online programs, not only as a potential source of sorely needed additional revenue, but also as a source of additional enrollments that would help them justify their continued existence.”

Still, the growth in the number of private HBCUs that offer online programs — from two to six since 2006 — has been modest. And the overall proportion of historically black institutions offering online degree programs (defined as having 80 percent or more of the coursework of at least one academic program delivered online) remains low. Of the nation’s 105 HBCUs, only 19 offer online degrees — 18 percent. (Of the 40 public HBCUs, 13 have at least one online program, up from 10 in 2006.) The national average across all institutions is just over 30 percent, according to Jeff Seaman, director of the Babson Survey Research Group.
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