By Charles Hallman
A new United Negro College Fund (UNCF) study finds that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) often outperform non-HBCUs in educating Black students.
The study, “Serving Students and the Public Good: HBCUs and the Washington Monthly College Rankings,” was released in October by the UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. Based on the 2012 Washington Monthly college rankings, it found that 83 percent of HBCUs were above the median among 249 liberal arts colleges and 50 percent above the median for graduating students from low-income families. It also points out:
• HBCUs “consistently rank in the top 50 percent” of schools in both overall rankings and social mobility ranking.
• HBCUs seem to be more successful in graduating students from “disadvantaged backgrounds…and tend to perform at an above-average level and significantly better than when they are evaluated strictly on the basis of actual graduation rates.”
• HBCUs “have a long-standing commitment to provide educational access to all students.”
College rankings, such as in the U.S. News and World Report, are commonly used by school officials to highlight the institution’s many features to attract students. However, according to the UN
CF study these traditional rankings are now being greatly scrutinized: “Many colleges and universities — predominately White institutions as well as HBCUs — have questioned the data and the methodology used by conventional ranking services. The metrics used by most college rankings often present a skewed view of HBCUs,” the report summarizes.
However, comparing Black colleges and universities to larger White institutions that “bring a whole different level of resources in helping students succeed” is largely unfair, notes Patterson Research Institute Executive Director Brian Bridges in a recent interview with the MSR. He also points out that unlike most college rankings, the Washington Monthly rankings focuses on how higher education institutions serve low-income Blacks and other students of color, and include two graduation rate statistics for each institution: an actual (six-year) rate and a predicted graduation rate computed from the percentage of students receiving Pell Grants and average SAT scores.
The Washington Monthly rankings and the UNCF report also notes three important points:
1. It is important to take into account “the characteristics of the students being enrolled” when evaluating a school’s graduation rates.
2. “Graduation rate calculations are inaccurate if they do not account for sometimes large numbers of students who often require substantial resources to educate.”
3. Many HBCUs enroll higher levels of low-income students, first-generation, part-time and transfer students that sometimes don’t complete their degree work and graduate within six consecutive years, which isn’t taken into account.
The UNCF study also points out that 46 percent of HBCU students come from families with incomes lower than $36,000, and 50 percent qualify for Pell
Grants; 43 percent of HBCU students are the first in their families to attend college, and 36 percent must also take at least one “developmental education” course in college because of deficient learning while in high school.
Also, Bridges says studies have indicated that SAT and ACT test scores “are basically predictors of [a student’s] success in their first year of college. But after that, the relationship between SAT scores and success dwindled.” They don’t always accurately predict if the student eventually will be a college graduate, he adds.
Bridges says he has seen students with low SAT scores do well in college, and students with higher scores not do as well. “I think both of these examples are evidence to the fact that students can’t take their college experience for granted,” surmises the executive director.
As a result, HBCUs enroll students from all socio-economic groups yet these schools stack up comparably with other higher-education institutions in preparing its students for success after college, the UNCF study surmises. It also dispel “the typical narrative around HBCUs, that they under-perform as far as graduation rates are concerned,” believes Bridges. “These schools who graduate [low-income] students then do more of helping the social mobility of low-income students move from one socioeconomic status to the next.”
The UNCF study and the Washington Monthly rankings “provides a fresh and relevant set of metrics” to evaluate U.S. higher-education institutions, including HBCUs. “In many instances when it comes to low-income Black students, it might be beneficial for them to attend a HBCU because these schools do an effective job of graduating students at a higher rate than many of their counterparts,” says Bridges.
When asked about the low graduation rates by Blacks at many “majority schools,” who’s ultimately responsible, the school or the student, “The responsibility lies with both…,” responded Bridges. “Schools can do anything they want, but if the individuals don’t put forth the effort, then they will not be successful.
“The student has to do their part to graduate, and the institution has to do their part to help the student graduate,” Bridges continues. “It’s a reciprocal partnership.
“I do think HBCUs are a viable option” for Blacks, says Bridges. “Especially [those students] who meet certain kinds of income criteria” that sometimes inhibit them from attending a predominately White college or university. “They want that supportive environment that can give them support and build the type of network they need to succeed.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.