Ten Months In, WSSU's Robinson Reflects On Successes, Challenges So Far
Historically Black Colleges and Universities have a long tradition in North Carolina, and some of the country’s best are located in the Piedmont Triad.
The first HBCUs were launched in the mid-1800s as a way to serve black students during segregation. But these days, many have become highly diverse institutions serving students across racial and financial lines.
Winston-Salem State University is among North Carolina’s eleven HBCUs. The school is a public institution, part of the University of North Carolina system. Its chancellor, Elwood Robinson, recently talked with WFDD’s Sean Bueter about the future of the university and the broader role of HBCUs in the modern higher ed landscape.
Robinson was installed as the school's 13th chancellor in January, but he's long been an advocate for HBCUs, and is a graduate of one himself.
While many of the challenges facing WSSU are shared by schools nationwide, Robinson says serving such a diverse population means finding new ways to reach each student.
“We have pockets where we have these students whether they’re in student leadership positions or SGA positions, they get the best,” he notes.
That means internships, mentorships and the full array of educational fulfillment that high-achieving students often experience. Robinson says there’s a need to scale that up so a broader group of students can have an education that serves them well.
“The challenges for us are to be able to do that, to give that educational experience to every student.”
There are other challenges, too. The six-year graduation rate at WSSU is around 43 percent, while the national average is around 60 percent. Robinson says the needle is moving on those rates, but that the conversation needs more context.
He says many students attending Winston-Salem State are academically prepared, but have trouble paying for school. Those students will drop out and re-enroll periodically, completing their education over a longer period of time.
That’s why, Robinson notes, the university has been examining its curriculum to be sure each class is adding value to students’ education. And it’s why WSSU has been pushing hard to raise money.
“We’ve been really aggressive in getting the kind of funding and financial resources to allow those students to complete their education,” he says.
As part of a fundraising campaign earlier this year, Robinson challenged more alumni to give at a rate consistent with national averages for other universities, and raised more than $500,000 in the effort.
His expertise earned him an invitation to a speak on a panel on philanthropy at HBCUs sponsored by the White House just last month.
But he says there’s more work to be done. Less than a year into the job, Robinson says his big goals for this school year include raising even more money for the university, working to improve outcomes for students, and having another successful school year.