Adriel A. Hilton and Marybeth Gasman

Today’s HBCUs serve as centers of academic excellence, cultural heritage, and social advancement for African American communities. To be successful, HBCU leaders must embody a combination of innovative thinking, invest in faculty and students, adapt to changing demographics, make use of the latest technology, and commit firmly to integrity, all while charting a course that ensures these institutions stay afloat and reach their destination: profitability and successful graduates, despite the storms they may encounter.

It is crucial that HBCU presidents embrace innovation and execute course corrections as necessary throughout their tenure. In a rapidly evolving higher education landscape, progressive approaches are essential to ensure relevance, competitiveness, and student success alike. We suggest HBCU leaders foster a culture of creativity, experimentation, and adaptation of new technology to assist in keeping HBCUs competitive within the higher education space, whether it pertains to revamping curriculum design, implementing new and teaching approaches, or leveraging tools for enhanced learning.

Capitalizing on new technologies is essential to remaining relevant within educational spaces. Data analytics and AI offer unprecedented opportunities to enhance learning and administrative efficiency. We suggest HBCU leaders work to provide students, faculty, and staff with the latest tools and training they need to strengthen operations and succeed in the fast-paced 21st Century.

Effective HBCU leadership can only thrive by investing in faculty, both monetarily and through administrative support. Faculty members serve as the backbone of any academic institution, shaping the educational experiences of students and driving research and teaching. HBCUs enjoy a range of the nation’s most diverse faculties, representing the African Diaspora. Faculty development should provide opportunities for professional growth, mentorship, and collaboration, which, in turn, will nurture a vibrant academic community. We suggest HBCU leaders invest in faculty development at all levels to strengthen the overall campus.

As heads of the schools, HBCU presidents must also prepare for changing demographics within the incoming classes of the 21st century. Student populations are changing and HBCUs need to adapt their recruitment, retention, and support strategies to meet the needs of a more diverse student body (i.e., the growing Latinx population). Using a proactive approach, we suggest HBCU leaders should enhance support services and tailor them to include aspects of all the students’ unique backgrounds and experiences.

Beyond the boardroom and campus, HBCU presidents also serve as pillars of the community. They are often called upon to represent the institution at public events, engage with local leaders, and advocate for the needs of their students and faculty in various off-campus situations. This role requires not only visibility but also a genuine commitment to social justice and community empowerment, specifically for the Black communities, without which the colleges would not exist. It is of utmost importance that HBCU leaders maintain an unwavering commitment to integrity. These commitments are critical, as HBCU leaders serve as role models for students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding communities as well.

Additionally, while politics is inevitable in any leadership role, it is particularly punctuated when dealing with a board of trustees that helps in facilitating the success of a college or university. Navigating this dynamic requires tact, diplomacy, and strategic thinking. HBCU presidents must be able to walk the fine line of building strong relationships with board members while still advocating for their institution’s best interests. This approach ensures an HBCU is destined for long-term success, reaching far beyond presidency tenures and faculty pay, like student graduation rates and increased federal funding for facilities and resources. The results of leaders who have taken their jobs seriously and produced amazing achievements will show in a nimble and strong communication system, a supportive and interactive local community, and students who feel supported by the team that is leading their education and crafting the environment in which they learn. The one true goal of HBCU leaders is to continue the appreciation of the Black experience and uphold the historical contributions of all those who came before while still being malleable enough to pave the way for anyone coming after.

About the Authors

Adriel A. Hilton, Director of Programs, Transition, and Youth Success Planning at WA Department of Children, Youth, and Families

Adriel A. Hilton is the Director of Programs, Transition and Youth Success Planning at the Washington Department of Children, Youth and Families. Most recently, he served as Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management and Associate Professor of Education at Southern University at New Orleans.


Marybeth Gasman, Associate Dean for Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education

Marybeth Gasman is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair in Education, a University Distinguished Professor, & Associate Dean for Research at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

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