- Black students who enroll in historically Black colleges or universities increase their probability of earning a college degree by 30% compared to other Black students with similar characteristics, according to a new working paper.
- The incomes of Black students who enrolled in HBCUs were also 5% higher by the time they were 30 than those of their non-HBCU counterparts. However, they were also more likely to have student debt.
- Researchers concluded that HBCUs improve long-term outcomes for Black students and said they will likely be key in increasing bachelor's degree attainment, particularly among Black workers.
Researchers analyzed the outcomes of more than 1 million Black students who took the SAT between 2004 and 2010. They compared Black students who enrolled in HBCUs with other Black students who had similar academic portfolios and interest in HBCUs.
HBCU attendance had the greatest positive effects on degree attainment and income in students with SAT scores below the median, indicating that selective HBCUs were not solely driving results. Black students who attended HBCUs also saw better outcomes than those who attended four-year colleges with similar SAT enrollment profiles.
But most Black students who didn’t choose to first enroll in an HBCU attended either a two-year college or did not initially pursue higher education at all, the paper found.
That means that those students are the most appropriate comparison group for HBCU students, said Andria Smythe, co-author of the research and professor of economics at Howard University. Policymakers should consider that when creating new accountability measures that could affect funding, and not compare HBCUs to other four-year colleges, she said.
“Compared to those more appropriate groups, HBCU students are doing way better,” she said.
Black HBCU students were more likely than their counterparts to pursue high-paying majors like those in science, technology, engineering and math fields, which is likely related to their increased income down the line, the paper found.
“HBCUs are not just improving the completion rate. They are changing in a concrete way the distribution of majors students are choosing,” Smythe said.
About 27% of the country's Black STEM undergraduates attend HBCUs, the paper found. That's despite HBCUs making up just 3% of colleges in the U.S., according to the United Negro College Fund.
The difference for Black students, Smythe said, is likely that HBCUs reduce the psychological burden of pursuing a college degree. The HBCU curriculum is more likely to feature mentorship opportunities and foster a sense of belonging for Black students, she said.
Black students are also less likely to encounter stereotype threat — the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s group — in difficult quantitative classes, she said. And faculty at HBCUs may be more likely to see the potential in Black students that would otherwise go overlooked.
However, HBCU students were 10 percentage points more likely to have student debt in 2017 than the sample of students who did not attend HBCUs, the paper found. They also carried debt loads of almost $12,000 more on average.
HBCU land-grant universities typically receive less state and federal funding compared to other non-HBCU land-grant colleges. According to an analysis by The Century Foundation, HBCU land-grant universities have endowment assets that are six times smaller per student than their counterpart universities in the same state.
“When we think about these funding shortfalls, it’s billions of dollars that could have been invested in these communities,” Smythe said. “Equitable higher education policy should revisit funding of HBCUs and make up for the historic shortfall.”