‘Establishing relationships:’ How LeMoyne-Owen College grew new student enrollment by 54%
By John Klyce – Reporter, Memphis Business Journal | Nov 17, 2022
Recently, when I spoke to Vernell Bennett-Fairs, president of LeMoyne-Owen College, I mentioned one of the major challenges facing higher education. “I’m sure you know,” I told her, “about the alleged enrollment cliff that’s coming.”
She responded with a counterpoint.
“Yes, I know,” Bennett-Fairs said. “But did you know, John, that although enrollment at PWIs [predominantly white institutions] has decreased since 2018, especially since the pandemic, applications at HBCUs has increased 30%?”
As PBS reported in September, applications at many HBCUs were up nearly 30% between 2018 and 2021. And as American City Business Journals, MBJ’s parent publication, noted last month, enrollment at HBCUs has increased 2.5% so far this fall.
Bennett-Fairs can speak confidently about the growth at HBCUs, as LeMoyne-Owen has seen it firsthand. In fall 2022, total enrollment at the college rose from 613 to 640. And enrollment of new students — freshmen and transfers — rose 54%, from 121 to 183.
The increases come amid a growing spotlight on HBCUs around the country, since the social justice movement that took hold after the murder of George Floyd and the outspoken support of prominent HBCU alum.
But LOC’s new student spike stems from more than just national trends, as the college has poured energy into enrollment and recruitment efforts.
LOC has restructured its enrollment management operation, bringing on new people, processes, and support system. It’s also bolstered its presence in the community.
“A big part of it was just going out and renewing and establishing relationships within Memphis-Shelby County Schools,” Bennett-Fairs explained.
Once you bring students into the institution, though, you must shepherd them across the finish line; so, in addition to its recruitment work, LOC is focusing on retention and graduation.
The college has hired full-time advisors for freshman and sophomores. It’s using specialized software for degree audit and advising functions, which help track students’ progress.