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By: Lena Arnold


In recent years, several historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have experienced a surge in enrollment. Among these institutions, Wilberforce University stands out as a beacon of academic excellence and community impact. In this article, we explore the reasons behind the enrollment growth at Wilberforce and its significance for both the university and its students.

The Rise of HBCUs

HBCUs have a rich legacy of providing quality education to African American students. These institutions have played a pivotal role in shaping the intellectual, cultural, and social landscape of the United States. Despite facing challenges such as funding disparities and historical inequities, HBCUs continue to thrive and adapt to changing times.

Factors Driving Enrollment Growth

Several factors contribute to the recent surge in enrollment at Wilberforce:

  1. Enhanced Visibility and Outreach: Wilberforce has actively promoted its programs and achievements through social media, community events, and partnerships. Increased visibility has led to greater interest from prospective students.
  2. Academic Programs and Scholarships: The Ohio Department of Education (OHDOE) and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) approved new degree programs in Business Management and Technology, and Digital Humanities. Wilberforce University has also received approval from the OHDOE to offer degree programs in Mathematical Sciences and Kinesiology, but they are pending HLC approval. Degree programs in Sustainability Engineering, Communications Engineering, and Civil Engineering are still pending approval from both organizations.

“These programs represent the beginning of the ‘new WU’ (Wilberforce University),” says President Vann R. Newkirk. “These programs mark the beginning of a bold and bright future for Wilberforce University.”

3. Investment in Facilities and Infrastructure: Recent investments in campus facilities, including the building of new dorms (slated for completion in 2025) and technology, have improved the overall learning environment.

4. Strong Visionary Leadership: Since the installment of Dr. Vann R. Newkirk, Wilberforce is further positioned to capitalize on its rich legacy and further shape the academic landscape. Dr. Newkirk’s leadership inspires innovation, and champions progress.

The enrollment surge at Wilberforce University signifies a renewed interest in HBCUs and their contributions to education and social progress. As the university continues to evolve, it must maintain its commitment to academic rigor, community engagement, and
student success.

From a total enrollment of 544 students in the 2022-2023 school year to 617 students in the 2023-2024 school year, Wilberforce saw a 29% increase in enrollment over the previous academic year.

Dr. Vann R. Newkirk, president of Wilberforce tells;
Higher Ed Drive that the university’s enrollment growth is due to the campus’s strong brand.

As the oldest private HBCU in the nation owned and operated by African Americans, connected to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and located in the Midwest, it gives many Black students outside of the South more historical Black higher education options.

“Wilberforce markets our history and location to students from the Midwest, the Mid Atlantic and foreign countries,” says Dr. Newkirk. “As a result of this aggressive recruiting our enrollment numbers have grown. We have also invested in advanced data analytics
tools and more intrusive advising and counseling,” adds Dr. Newkirk. “These efforts have paid off and increased first-year retention from under 60% to 73% in less than two years.”

This 29% enrollment growth has prompted Dr. Newkirk and other Wilberforce officials to make changes to its faculty size, athletic departments, and housing accommodations.

Since the student population uptick, the campus has invested in off-campus apartments, leased by the University, and plans to construct a new 10-building dorm complex at a cost of around $6 million are underway.

Wilberforce University’s enrollment growth reflects its resilience, adaptability, and unwavering dedication to empowering the next generation of leaders. By fostering an inclusive and supportive environment, Wilberforce ensures that its legacy endures for generations
to come.

For more information on Wilberforce University initiatives visit


1: Reckon.News: Why Is Enrollment on the Rise at These 3 Small HBCUs: Edward Waters, Wilberforce, and Elizabeth City State


For Immediate Release 
Media Contact: Lena Arnold
Phone: 937-508-5532
June 6, 2024

About Wilberforce University: 

Wilberforce University is the nation’s oldest private, historically black University owned and operated by African Americans. Its roots trace back to its founding in 1856, a period of American history marred by the physical bondage of people of African descent. It was also a period when the education of African Americans was not only socially prohibited but was illegal. There was nothing about the prevailing social and cultural ethos of the era that suggested that African Americans might or should be taught or could learn. Yet a powerful idea assumed life and Wilberforce University was born. The founding of Wilberforce University represented a bold, audacious, and visionary example of what could happen when men and women of goodwill transcended race and the prevailing social and cultural constructs and norms to pursue a noble purpose. Today Wilberforce University offers 25 academic programs to students of promise from marginalized communities. Learn more at


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