Enrollment at HBCU in Alabama is increasing. And some tuition fees are frozen. Look where.

After a long decline in enrollment, Alabama’s historically black colleges may be in a period of growth.

Alabama has the largest number of HBCUs in the state, with 14 public and private institutions qualifying. The colleges, built before 1964, were originally founded to educate African Americans who had been denied public schooling for centuries.

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Experts say HBCUs are key to building strong, vibrant communities — and are economic engines in many parts of the country. In Alabama, HBCUs have contributed more than $1 billion to the state’s economy in recent years. In 2020, they produced about a quarter, or 3,581, of the state’s 14,667 black graduates, federal data shows.

For decades, however, institutions have struggled to attract and retain students. In the past 10 years alone, HBCUs have seen enrollment decline and tuition growth faster than any other school, according to an analysis by AL.com.

But that could change.

After a long decline, HBCU enrollment is on the upswing

AL.com analyzed 10 years of tuition, funding, and enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, and publicly available data on institution websites.

Enrollment at HBCUs in Alabama has declined rapidly over the past decade, much faster than at other institutions.

While slightly more students are enrolling in Alabama’s four-year colleges, four-year HBCUs have seen a 16% drop in enrollment since 2012-2013. Public HBCUs also saw a 14% decline, while enrollments at all public institutions increased slightly over the same period.

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HBCU private and biennial enrollments have also declined faster than other institutions.

But between 2020 and 2021, HBCU enrollment increased significantly while enrollment remained flat statewide.

The table below shows your school’s enrollment over time. View the table online here.

Most of that increase, of about 6%, came from two-year HBCUs as community colleges across the state see a resurgence in enrollment. But private HBCU enrollment has also increased, and some say the jump could signal a boom in future enrollment.

According to the New York Times, HBCU application rates have increased dramatically across the country in recent years. Students surveyed by the Times said they were drawn to a more nurturing campus environment and noted its reputation for producing top talent.

“HBCUs are the safe haven where education is still excellent,” Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs for the United Negro College Fund, said at a recent forum.

HBCUs have been leaders in tuition freezes

HBCUs can be more affordable than other government or private institutions, UNCF noted.

Alabama four-year HBCUs calculated an average rate of $15,040 for out-of-state students and $12,621 for in-state students in 2021-22. That’s about $3,000 less than the statewide out-of-state rate and about $500 less than the average in-state rate.

Two-year HBCUs charged an average rate of $7,462 for international students and $3,731 for domestic students during the same period. Together, they charged about $600 less for out-of-state students and almost $1,000 less for domestic students compared to other public two-year colleges.

Over the past decade, tuition at HBCUs in Alabama has risen sharply, but then flattened out.

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Alabama has eight four-year HBCUs, six of which are private schools. Over the past decade, tuition at private HBCUs has increased 18%, compared to 15% at other private four-year tuition.

Tuition at Alabama A&M and Alabama State University, the state’s two public four-year HBCUs, rose more sharply. In-state and out-of-state tuition increased about 42%, compared to about 30% in all public four years.

But when the pandemic struck, HBCUs were among the first colleges to freeze tuition.

All four-year HBCUs — with the exception of Selma University, which reported no tuition from 2020-2022 — froze tuition between 2019 and 2022. Some, like Alabama A&M and ASU, hadn’t increased tuition since at least 2018.

At least five of those institutions tracked tuition fees during the 2022-23 school year, AL.com found.

How has funding changed?

In Alabama, HBCU funding appears to be increasing after decades of divestment.

For one, state allocations to HBCUs have increased more than other state institutions — by about 23% from 2019 to 2021, compared to 13% for all public colleges.

In 2021, four-year public HBCUs in Alabama received $2,447 more per student, or 33% more than their peers, data shows. Alabama A&M received its biggest gift ever this year, $2.2 million. Federal grants have also increased slightly.

However, experts say states still have a long way to go before HBCUs can see equitable outcomes.

A 2022 Forbes report found that black land grant universities were underfunded by at least $12.8 billion overall over the past three decades.

As recently as the early 2000s, Alabama HBCUs received less funding per student than other state institutions, federal data show. Legislators approved $5 million for deferred maintenance projects at HBCUs last year, but that covered only half of the required cost, according to data from ACHE.

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At the federal level, advocates have argued with policymakers that the recent surge in HBCU funding does not make up for years of neglect.

“Even if you give us $6 billion — and mind you, that’s split between about 100 accredited institutions — that’s still a drop in the ocean if you’ve been underfunded since inception,” Murray said.

Which HBCUs are the cheapest? most expensive?

There are many different ways to measure college expenses, which can change wildly when you factor in additional fees and scholarships, as well as local living expenses.

The rankings below are based on the most recently reported total price for students living off campus, including tuition, fees and other college expenses. Student grant rankings are based on 2020-2021 data, subtracting the average amount of state, federal, and institutional grants awarded to each student.

Most expensive, without tools:

Oakwood (four years): $42,400 Lawson State (two years): $20,527

Most expensive, using:

Tuskegee (four years): $36,848 Shelton State (two years): $14,202

The cheapest, without tools:

Talladega College (four years): $21,986 Gadsden State (two years): $12,952

The cheapest, with the help of:

Talladega College (four years): $12,488 Bishop State (two years): $6,636