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Edward Waters College Overcomes Challenges; Sees Striking Increase In Applications

Lindsey Kilbride

Edward Waters College is reporting a dramatic increase in the number of applications submitted for its next school year.  

Jacksonville’s historically black college has struggled with filling desks in the past.

On a weekday afternoon at Edward Waters College, there aren’t many students out and about on campus, but that could be changing soon.

Joel Walker is the Director of Admissions at the college. He said the school received more than 3,000 applications this year. During the same time last year, he says only 1,800 applied.

Walker says the influx of applications is the result of lots of hard work.

“One of my goals was regain our territory,” Walker said. “As I tell my employees, ‘Restore the roar.’ You know, gain Florida back, and then we can go on and tackle the other areas.”

Most EWC students are from Florida with about 19 percent from Jacksonville, so Walker says his team made a conscious effort to visit more high schools and build connections with potential students, which wasn’t easy for his small staff.

“As a director, most directors aren’t on the road that much,” Walker said. “I’m out just as much as the recruiters.”

Walker says once people learn about Edward Waters, they often find it’s a good fit.

Because on one end of the spectrum it is one of the easier colleges to get accepted to.

“If you have a 2.5 GPA [and] have taken the SAT or ACT, you’re already admitted to Edward Waters College,” Walker said.

But on the other end, there’s an opportunity for students who graduate in the top 2 percent to go to medical school for free.

But like all historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, Edward Waters has to overcome a common misperception.

”Sometimes when I’m talking with students they’ll say ‘Well… is it just for black people?’ And it’s like, 'No,'” Walker said, “HBCUs are open to everyone, and the better diverse HBCUs become, the better education-wise it will be.”

He says reaching out to other races has been a big part of recruitment. But non-HBCUs strive for diversity too.

Sally Rubenstone is senior advisor at College Confidential, a college advice website. She says most colleges are seeking out minorities, which is one reason a lot of HBCUs are struggling.

“Today’s college landscape for students of color is very different from what it was a half century ago or so,” Rubenstone said. “Now the applications from African-American students will often go to the top of the pile.”

Rubenstone says students worry that going to a historically black college won’t be as appealing to employers.

“So a common response is ‘Oh, well, I’ve never heard of that college,’” Rubenstone said.

But she says smaller HBCUs are often a great option for students who are the first in their family to go to college, or students who want smaller classes.

At Edward Waters, student Mike Williams was walking in the hall. He says he thinks he’d be less productive at a larger school.

“I like their one-on-one teaching and that the environment here is great,” Williams said.

He’s says he’s majoring in recreation education, and he hopes to become the athletic director at Edward Waters one day.

“I feel like they gave me an education,” Williams said. “So I will give back to them what they gave to me.”

Edward Waters’ goal is to enroll more than 1,200 students for fall semester.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.