In June, the Supreme Court all but closed the door on the use of race-conscious college admissions, touching off major changes in higher education.
Education advocates said they believe the decision, while dismaying, puts a new "spotlight" on the value of historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, for Black students.
"We're upset about it, but at the same time, we understand that this provides an opportunity for HBCUs to provide access to education for those who otherwise would not have it," Clark Atlanta University Dr. George French said on ABC News Live in July.
Higher education research analyst Gabriel Montague agreed, saying in a statement that ending affirmative action as it has historically been used could prompt Black students to instead seek schools where they will be "comfortable in their diversity" while still "weighing options of affordability and career goals."
Montague is the author of "Segregation Forever," an analysis from the advocacy group Education Trust of the underrepresentation of Black students at elite schools
The end of race-conscious admissions could mean fewer non-white students are admitted at predominantly white schools: For example, Black student enrollment in the past dropped at two branches of the University of California system and at the University of Michigan in the years after the use of race was banned from admissions there.
Should that trend play out nationally, those students could then take another look at HBCUs, advocates and educators said.
"The future is bright [for HBCUs]," Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) President Harry L. Williams told ABC News. "Because of the attention that HBCUs are getting around the country, especially since this recent Supreme Court decision, they're anticipating an influx of students considering HBCUs, which is going to put a spotlight on our institutions."
During the next three years, the number of students enrolled at HBCUs is expected to increase by 90,000, according to the HBCU Transformation Project, a collaboration between TMCF and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).
That would be a sizable increase: According to federal government statistics, there were about 287,000 students enrolled at HBCUs in 2021.
Still, some experts also worried there could be added complications for Black students' college plans at the same time HBCUs continue to push for more financial support in order to meet students' goals, given the persistent funding gap between those schools and their predominantly white peer institutions.
National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education President Paulette Granbury Russell struck a cautious tone.
"There's a lot of unknowns here," she said, adding, "The unfortunate part is, we may very well see a decline in students who may otherwise want to opt into an HBCU experience. Affordability is a driving concern for them."
Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the UNCF, which like the Thurgood Marshall College Fund financially supports HBCU students, believes the Supreme Court decision will harm historically Black schools if there's no way of "navigating" through it.
The affirmative action decision, he said, was "deeply concerning" -- and reversed roughly 40 years of precedent -- but was not a surprise.
"I think it was harmful for Black students who want to attend elite [predominately white] institutions," Lomax said. But, he said, "I think the smart money is on HBCUs. They continue to provide outstanding education for the students who attend them at a lower price, by the way -- about a third less than their comparable white institutions."
Enrollment at North Carolina's Saint Augustine's University, a historically Black school, has increased slightly over the past two school years, according to President Christine McPhail.
Though McPhail described the affirmative action ruling as a "blow," she said it was too early to tell how it will impact the recruitment of future students.
"Saint Augustine's University, from the beginning, was built for you [Black students]," McPhail said.
"Our cultures, our values, embrace you. I don't have to pass a diversity, equity, inclusion policy," she said. "I was built on diversity, equity and inclusion for students who had those needs, that wanted to see faculty that look like them, that had similar values with them."
Dr. Quinton T. Ross Jr., president of Alabama State University, said some HBCUs have already received a boost but said they will also need increased funding to supplement projected enrollment hikes in the years to come.
"When we talk about an HBCU, we've always been affirmative action," Ross, TMCF’s 2023 educational leadership award recipient, said. "We're equal opportunity, and so we welcome all those who seek an opportunity to come to our institutions. Now in terms of, you know, the number of individuals that want to come -- from the HBCU standpoint -- we still suffer from infrastructure issues where we can be able to accommodate those that may want to continue to come."
French, with Clark Atlanta University, echoed that on ABC News Live this summer. "When our minorities are turned away from [predominantly white institutions], based on this decision, they will have nowhere to go unless we build the capacity at HBCUs."
At the start of the 2023-2024 school year, TMCF and UNCF received a $124 million gift for the HBCU Transformation Project. Forty HBCUs received money through the project, for resources, infrastructure and financial aid investments.
Williams said the schools needed the investment "badly," but that gift was only the beginning.
HBCU students like Howard University's Taylor Campbell are helping the next generation. Campbell, a third-year student who said she cried when opening her acceptance letter to Howard in Washington, runs a mentorship program called Bison Buddies.
"I'm helping them not even with applications but helping them even see that college is an option," Campbell told ABC News.
"They [the students] live down the street from Howard and have never even stepped foot on our campus," she said.
Campbell said she is exposing mentees to the benefits of the same HBCU experience she had.
"The legacy and the core family that you can build ... I don't think that experience can be replicated," she said.
While the ruling has forced some applicants to mull their options, experts make one critical distinction.
"HBCUs may absorb a portion of these students, but by no means are HBCUs secondary choices," Montague said in his statement.
"HBCUs produce the most Black doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals," he said. "This was true while affirmative action was in place and will remain so after its downfall."