Meeting New Challenges: While Leaders at North Carolina's Historically Black Colleges and Universities Express Optimism over the Potential They Envision for Their Individual Campuses, They Are Mindful of the Challenges They Face

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Among North Carolina's 11 Black colleges and universities, it's possible to see them as a representative sample of the 105 institutions that make up the historically Black college and university community in the United States. While leaders at the state's HBCUs express optimism over the potential they envision their individual campuses fulfilling, they are mindful of the challenges they face.

Chief among those challenges is the projected population growth in North Carolina over the next decade that has state officials planning for the 200,000-student University of North Carolina system to accommodate an additional 80,000 students by 2017. In addition to state population growth pushing the public universities to increase capacity by nearly 50 percent in less than 10 years, officials project the state's economy will need 400,000 new workers by 2014, according to UNC system estimates.

"In many ways, North Carolina is a state on which to keep one's eyes because of the population growth and the changes in demographics," says Dr. Lucy Reuben, a higher education expert and professor of the practice of business administration at Duke University.

North Carolina HBCUs, both public and private, confront plentiful opportunities for enrollment, academic programs and research growth, provided the necessary funding and leadership are available to facilitate such opportunity. In the past two years, a majority of the HBCUs in North Carolina have welcomed new campus leaders, signaling a dramatic changing of the guard. Barber-Scotia College, Bennett College, Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), Fayetteville State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Livingstone College, North Carolina Central University (NCCU), North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University have inaugurated .new presidents and chancellors since 2006. Diverse recently spoke with several HBCU presidents and found a wide range of concerns and views, some common and some specific to their respective campuses.

Positioning for the Future

ECSU is experiencing some growing pains and is having difficulty providing housing for all of its residential students. Dr. Willie Gilchrist, the university chancellor, told ECSU trustees at a meeting in September that the school could have enrolled as many as 4,200 students this academic year, but could barely accommodate 3,100 because of a school housing shortage.

Though North Carolina campuses have recently renovated and constructed new buildings and dormitories from the proceeds of state-issued bonds, ECSU needs a new round of dormitory funding and is considering seeking private funding in partnership with the university's foundation, according to Gilchrist, who became the ECSU chancellor in 2007.

Gilchrist says HBCUs that are predominantly undergraduate institutions have to find innovative ways to connect their faculty and administrators to local communities. While schools such as NCCU and Saint Augustine's College seek partnerships with wealthy research universities, federal agencies, and multinational corporations based in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, ECSU is reinvigorating its ties to the local economy.

Gilchrist says he's gone to local organizations, like the airport authority, and persuaded their boards either to create board positions for ECSU faculty and staff or nominate them to existing positions. He explains that organizations have been receptive to the idea, and several ECSU appointments have been made to local boards over the past year.

"We have to make ourselves indispensable to the communities where we are based. We shouldn't limit ourselves simply because we're a historically Black institution. These organizations can benefit from our expertise, and we need them welcoming our students into the local work forces," Gilchrist says.

Raising Expectations

Officials at NCCU have confronted a housing shortage at the Durham-based campus and taken time to study its prospects for further expansion. …