Skip to main content

Elevating HBCU Recruitment: The Power of Storytelling in Unlocking Success

March 19, 2024
Elevating HBCU Recruitment: The Power of Storytelling in Unlocking Success

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) stand as pillars of the Black community, offering a rich legacy of academic excellence and cultural significance. Unfortunately, despite their rich legacy, HBCUs face challenges in recruitment and retention when compared to other institutions of higher education.  

How does an institution of higher education, HBCUs specifically, create a meaningful connection with those who stand to gain so much value by attending their college or university? 

It starts with identifying who that student is. Who are they as high school freshmen, as sophomores, juniors, and seniors? What are their concerns? How could your college or university be a solution to easing their fears and concerns at this point in their lives?  

As much as we would like to think that we make decisions logically, we are more driven to make decisions by emotion than we give credit. There is a disconnect between many colleges and universities in their messaging. They provide the “logical” information first and fail to form the strong emotional connection that comes first. 

How can your HBCU create this emotional connection long before you even meet a prospective student? The answer lies within storytelling.  

The Power of HBCUs: Cultivating a Unique Identity 

HBCUs bear a legacy steeped in history, traditions, and cultural significance. These institutions have nurtured generations of leaders, producing Fortune 500 CEOs and even Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris. The impact HBCUs have on our society continues as 80% of black judges, 50% of Black lawyers, 40% of Black engineers are all alumni of HBCUs.  

Impact of HBCUs_1 (1)

In the crowded educational landscape, the need for HBCUs to differentiate becomes paramount. Storytelling serves as a vehicle for highlighting their unique identity, emphasizing the strengths and values that set them apart.  

Building Emotional Connections: The Essence of Storytelling 

The heart of effective storytelling is a deep understanding of human psychology. Stories have a remarkable ability to influence decision-making, tapping into the emotions that drive our choices. Prospective students do not merely seek an education; they yearn for an experience that resonates with their aspirations.  

By infusing narratives into your marketing strategies, HBCUs can create emotional connections, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose that drives enrollment. 

Well-marketed HBCUs have the potential to create an emotional connection with prospective students before their junior and senior years of high school. Higher education institutions should be more than a mental representation in a potential student’s mind. What prospective students need extends beyond the attributes, features, and other information. The greater the emotional connection an HBCU builds, the more likely the student will enroll in that school. 

Integrate Storytelling with the Stages of Prospective Student Engagement  


Storytelling is a powerful tool in marketing that allows you to convey messages and forge emotional connections. When it comes to recruiting prospective students for HBCUs, storytelling becomes a game-changer. It's not just about presenting facts; it's about sharing a wide range of experiences that deeply resonate with these students.

The journey from initial interest to enrollment encompasses several stages. Storytelling seamlessly aligns with this journey, capturing attention with captivating stories and nurturing engagement through ongoing narratives.

At every touchpoint, you have an opportunity to paint a vivid picture of life at your HBCU. Showcasing the unique experiences, traditions, and achievements of your institution can create a lasting impression and inspire prospective students to become part of your vibrant community.

To bring storytelling into your HBCU marketing, start by identifying your institution's unique stories. These could be tales of exceptional student achievements, faculty impact, or community involvement. Craft these stories in a relatable and engaging way, using a mix of written content, visuals, and multimedia. Then, strategically distribute these stories across your marketing channels, from email to social media platforms to your official website. 

The Enrollment Journey 7

The Art of Storytelling: Tips for HBCU Administrators and Marketers 

Craft Authentic Stories

Genuine storytelling is the foundation of connection. Seek out narratives that resonate with the core values of your institution and showcase the authentic experiences of students, faculty, and alumni. However, it is crucial to align these stories with the concerns and aspirations of your potential students. By doing so, you can create a profound and heartfelt connection that reflects the essence of your HBCU and resonates with your audience.

Showcase Student Achievements and Success Stories

Highlighting the achievements of students is a powerful method to amplify the influence of storytelling. Share stories of students who have overcome obstacles, pursued innovative projects, or made a positive impact in their communities. Additionally, showcase stories from alumni that showcase how their HBCU education has influenced their careers and personal lives. These stories not only serve as inspiration, but also paint a captivating picture of the transformative journey that your HBCU offers.

Align Storytelling with Values and Goals

Your institution's values and goals should act as the guiding light for your storytelling endeavors. It is crucial to ensure that the stories you share align with these guiding principles. Whether it is highlighting diversity, academic excellence, or community involvement, each narrative should contribute to the overall narrative of your HBCU's mission.


Creating Your Admissions Operating System: A Holistic Approach 

In order for your story and messaging to have the desired impact, it is crucial that they are delivered to the right person at the right time. If the timing is off, even the most compelling story may fall flat. Similarly, if the wrong message reaches the right person, it will not resonate as intended.

As HBCUs recognize the power of storytelling, it becomes essential to adopt a comprehensive approach. This innovative framework seamlessly integrates storytelling into recruitment and enrollment strategies, ensuring a cohesive and compelling narrative across all touchpoints.

The benefits are plentiful when storytelling aligns with admissions goals. Prospective students are no longer passive observers; they become active participants in a shared journey. By implementing this comprehensive approach, HBCUs foster lasting relationships that extend beyond enrollment, creating a community that thrives on collective success.

The key components of this operating system involve identifying authentic stories, showcasing student achievements, and aligning narratives with institutional values. This results in an admissions strategy that not only drives enrollment but also enhances internal efficiency, propelling HBCUs to new heights of achievement.

The journey towards increased enrollment and enhanced resonance begins with storytelling – an enduring art that weaves the threads of human connection. HBCUs boast a wealth of untold stories, narratives that inspire, uplift, and shape the future generation of leaders. The more storytelling is interwoven into HBCU marketing and recruitment strategies, the greater the potential for heightened enrollment, engagement, and success. Embrace storytelling as your guiding light, and share your progress on this transformative journey!


Embrace storytelling as your guiding light, and let us know how you’re doing on the journey!

Author Bio

Alex Moore, MBA, is a senior partner and marketing strategy expert at Stratagon. In true early adopter fashion, Alex is passionate about marketing technology, automation, CRM and using leading tech tools to create forward movement in business and in life. Connect with him on Twitter.