By Marybeth Gasman
This past week, Forbes determined that Claflin University is the best Black college in the country. The magazine bases its assessment on the quality of education offered to students, the number of alumni listed in Who’s Who in America, student debt, graduation rates and the number of faculty who have won nationally competitive awards. Forbes also ranked the Orangeburg, S.C., No. 141 out of 569 undergraduate colleges nationwide.
For those of us who study and watch Black colleges Forbes’ decision was no surprise. Claflin has been on the rise — at a great speed — for the past five years. Under the leadership of President Henry N. Tisdale, the institution has put students first and foremost. From the moment one visits the University’s Web site, the centrality and deep care for students is obvious. The institution boasts a diverse student body, rigorous liberal arts curriculum, and ample research and internship opportunities.
Claflin has also concentrated its attention on fundraising, increasing its alumni giving rates to 37 percent. In fact, the institution is currently expanding its fundraising staff in order to capitalize on all of its academic success. Claflin is investing money in creating an infrastructure that will sustain the institution long into the future.
What is most impressive about Claflin University is its graduation rate African-American students. At 65 percent, the institution’s rate is significantly above the national average for African-Americans (45 percent) and college students in general (56 percent). Something amazing is happening at this small institution and the higher education community at large should take notice.
Claflin is similar to many small, Black colleges and as such, other Black colleges should look very closely at what is working at Claflin in terms of leadership, academics, fundraising and student recruitment. It’s time to let go of strategies of the past and move toward emulating those that result in success.
An associate professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Gasman is the author of Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and lead editor of Understanding Minority Serving Institutions (SUNY Press, 2008).