Claflin University outshines other South Carolina HBCUs as student enrollment grows
Oct. 17-- Oct. 17--More from the series
South Carolina's historically black colleges and universities
Read more of The State's series on HBCUs in South Carolina and what the future holds for some of the state's most essential schools.
Historically black colleges are as vital as ever. But across SC, they're in jeopardy
While historically black colleges in SC struggle to recruit, top-ranked Claflin soars
Threatened HBCU Denmark Tech brings jobs and money to one of the poorest parts of SC
When Bryant Cain was applying to colleges, he had choices.
The Academic All-Star graduate of Eau Claire High School in Richland 1 had his sights set on the University of South Carolina, then Wofford if USC didn't work out, he said.
But something stuck out to him when he visited Claflin University, a private HBCU -- historically black college or university -- of roughly 2,000 students in Orangeburg.
"When I went off to visit other schools, there were almost always other students who said, 'don't go here,'" Cain said.
"At Claflin, if you have a 4.0, all the professors will know you," Cain said. "Even the students will know you."
Claflin stands out from the state's other HBCUs. While enrollment at HBCUs throughout the state dropped 33 percent between 2008 and 2018, Claflin increased enrollment 21 percent in the same period, according to S.C. Commission on Higher Education data.
What sets Claflin apart is its consistently high national rankings, the percent of alumni who give back to the school, its large endowment and its relatively low student default rate.
The oldest HBCU in the state has held its top-10 HBCU status for nine straight years from U.S. News World Report, according to the school's website. In 2015, Claflin was named HBCU of the Year by HBCU Digest.
In 2008, Forbes ranked Claflin as the nation's top HBCU, according to an article from the Times and Democrat. That year, the school named its first Fulbright Scholar, Aundreta Conner, according to the Times and Democrat.
Claflin's student body is 92 percent black and 2 percent international. Making up about 1 percent each are Hispanics, white students, Asians, and Native Americans (the numbers do not add up to 100 because of rounding), according to S.C. Commission on Higher Education data.
"Claflin has a strong brand in terms of its image and reputation," former Claflin president Henry Tisdale told The State. "Claflin has a strong regional and national academic reputation, as evidenced by U.S. News and World Report and other rankings."
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
What is an HBCU?
HBCU stands for historically black college or university. Federal law defines an HBCU as "any historically black college or university that was established prior to 1964, whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency."
South Carolina has eight HBCUs. The two public HBCUs are S.C. State University in Orangeburg and Denmark Technical College in Bamberg County.
The six private HBCUs are Allen University in Columbia, Benedict College in Columbia, Claflin University in Orangeburg, Morris College in Sumter, Clinton College in Rock Hill, and Voorhees College in Denmark.
The S.C. Commission on Higher Education does not track enrollment for Clinton College.
Claflin, which does not rely on state funds to balance its budget, has a higher percentage of its alumni donate to the school than nearly every other college in the country, HBCU or otherwise. It ranks No. 9 throughout the country in percentage of alumni -- 46 percent -- who give back after graduating, according to a 2018 article from U.S. News World Report.
Claflin has a $27.6 million endowment, which is more than any other private HBCU in South Carolina. In fiscal year 2018, Claflin received $2.5 million in gifts and donations, which was more than every other HBCU except for Allen University, according to S.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, an organization that advocates for the state's private colleges.
Claflin also attracts donations from those who are not alumni. In 2012, a performance by Claflin's choir inspired mega-donor Darla Moore to donate $1 million to the university, according to an article in the Times Democrat. USC's business school is named for Moore.
As a result, data show Claflin's student performance is above many of its counterparts.
Claflin has a lower student loan default rate, 10.6 percent, than any other S.C. HBCU school except for Allen University, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, it had the highest graduation rate, 50 percent, of any HBCU in the state, education statistics show.
"(We're) not just enrolling students. (We're) making sure we can promise students and parents they will get jobs once they leave Claflin University," Tisdale said.
Driving Claflin's enrollment is more than just its strong reputation, Tisdale said. Claflin, like many other colleges throughout the country, has been targeting older, non-traditional students and online students, Tisdale said.
Claflin currently has seven programs students can complete without having to step on campus, Tisdale said. The school has also invested in in-demand majors such as nursing, Tisdale siad.
"These are students who would not have been in any program at Claflin University, so our decision to diversify and also to bring on programs that would bring on new students, I think these things contribute to our ability to keep enrollment strong and growing," Tisdale said.
Claflin's tuition and net price (the total cost after scholarships, books, room and board are factored in) are above the average for S.C. HBCUs, but it's not the most expensive.
The net price for Claflin is $19,208, more than the average HBCU net cost of $17,564. But Claflin is also more affordable than S.C. State University, Claflin's next-door neighbor in Orangeburg, or Benedict College in Columbia, both of which have an average net cost of over $20,000, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics.
"Claflin is the best school in the state, period," said Bakari Sellers, an attorney and CNN commentator who received an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta. "And I say this as an alum of USC Law School."
Sellers is a native of Denmark, S.C., and a former S.C. state representative.
Claflin does all this while still serving a predominantly low-income student body.
Nearly 80 percent of Claflin's full-time undergraduate students receive Pell Grants, which are an indicator of poverty, according to U.S. Department of Education statistics. At four-year colleges, the average percent of students receiving Pell Grants is 38, while at technical schools that percentage is 62, data show.
After serving at the school for 25 years, Tisdale retired this summer and was replaced by Dwaun Warmack.
"Going forward, I hope the next leader will focus on building and retaining a strong and stable leadership team. I think that has served us well, having a strong and stable leadership team," said Tisdale, who noted that members of the leadership team have been at the school an average of nearly 19 years each. "I think Claflin is well poised to compete nationally and internationally."
Before being hired at Claflin, Warmack served as the president of Harris-Stowe State University, an HBCU with an enrollment of 1,716 in St. Louis, Missouri. While there, Harris-Stowe locked down a record-setting $5 million grant, boosted enrollment by the largest amount in decades and landed on U.S. News and World Report's list of Best Regional Universities in the Midwest.
Asked about his vision for Claflin, Warmack -- who is new to South Carolina -- said he is working on a strategic plan, and that plan will focus on academics, fundraising and student success, he said.
"Our goal is to be one of the best liberal arts institutions in the country that just happens to be an HBCU," Warmack said.