Survey Shows More Diversity and Higher Graduation Rates at Public HBCUs - Higher Education
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Survey Shows More Diversity and Higher Graduation Rates at Public HBCUs

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by Arelis Hernandez

Public Historically Black Colleges and Universities have grown and expanded in the last 20 years, making their students and faculty among the most intellectually and racially diverse in higher education, according to a survey released Monday.

In their 20-year analysis on member institutions from 1986 to 2006, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), a national organization that provides scholarships, support, and research to HBCUs, found that the schools are attracting more students than ever before—particularly Hispanics and Asians.

“We are supporting diversity and it matters to HBCUs whose historic mission has been to serve under-served communities including Hispanic and Asian minorities, as well as, the low-income population,” said TMCF education researcher Olivia Blackmon.

Over the last two decades, Hispanics and Asians have consistently increased their numbers while overall enrollment has increased about 30 percent, TMCF data indicates.

Blackmon said that among female students, Asian and Hispanic women have more than doubled their presence in graduate programs while the number of degrees conferred has increased 43 and 45 percent respectively.

TMCF president and chief executive officer Dwayne Ashley said public HBCUs are not only affordable but they also provide a “nurturing and supportive environment.” He said they have may have more success in welcoming a more diverse student population overall than historically White institutions.

“At HBCUs, you have students who are judged on merits not on a racial context,” said Dr. Marybeth Gasman, an associate education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, describing the decision many students make to attend an HBCU over an HWI.

Gasman, a researcher who studies HBCUs, noted that  the significant growth in Asian, Hispanic, and even White students, dispels widely-held myths about the schools, and is the result of aggressive marketing campaigns in non-traditional settings.

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“Students are saying they are looking for a diversity of perspectives and people. They want the HBCU experience,” Gasman said. “Some people think that Black colleges are all Black and are not very diverse but people forget that Black culture in itself is very diverse.”

Consistently since 1986, non-Black students make up about a fifth of the HBCU student body.

The data also shows that there is almost a 1:1 ration of full-time non-Black faculty to Black faculty, spreading diversity more evenly than HWIs. At HBCUs, non-Black faculty, which includes Whites and other races, represent 45 percent of full-time and 31 percent of part-time faculty respectively.

“I was shocked when looked to compare public HBCUs to public flagship institutions across the board,” Gasman said, “You are not going to see faculties as diverse as this in any way.”

Despite the percentage growth, the numbers are still small for minority subgroups. For example, Hispanics represented just two percent and Asians one percent of the public HBCU student population in 2006.

The number of reporting White students has also decreased steadily over the years, losing nearly 7,000 students since 1986. But Gasman points out that those students who mark “Other,” a group that has increased and represented 4.8 percent in 2006, are most likely White.

As the number of students at HBCUs grew so also did the number of degrees awarded; graduation rates have improved almost 60 percent.

Across the board, women experienced the largest increases, quadrupling the number of doctorate degrees and experiencing a 78 percent jump in bachelor’s degrees in 2006. Graduation rates experienced modest gains among Black and Latino men, a phenomenon consistent with public and private universities nationwide.

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Ashley said, however, that the data shows HBCUs generally attract and retain Black men better than other institutions.

Internal and external forces at HBCUs have fueled increased completion rates that have been historically low, Gasman said.

“There has been an emphasis on increasing degree attainment that’s been going around in different HBCU circles. Administration is really pushing it,” she said. “Graduation rates are not that high so states are under pressure to increase them among the state institutions and HBCUs are also being pushed more.”

While public colleges and universities have had to make enormous cuts to their operating budgets as state economies shrink, Ashley said for HBCUs the impact has been minimal in comparison.

“We’ve always been challenged for resources,” Ashley said. “There are some financial concerns, projects are being delays and everybody is cutting costs, but we haven’t seen dramatic drops.”

In the report, endowments have more than tripled in value and averaged $14 million at each school in 2006. At the same time, students are borrowing more money to finance their studies while federal grants have decreased. The average cost for public HBCUs has risen in the last decade by 38 percent for in-state students and 45 percent for out-of-state students.

Black colleges still struggle on a sore point for tenured faculty, who earn about 20 percent less than their counterparts at all public universities and colleges. The salary gap is smaller for associate and assistant professors, who earn 10 percent less than their public institution counterparts across the board.

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