Historically Black Colleges Offer Rewards for Those Who Finish, Study Finds

About two-thirds of the African-American students who enter a historically black college or university fail to finish in six years, but for those who graduate, such schools do a better job preparing them for life after college than other schools do for their black graduates.

The insight comes from a survey of 55,812 adults who received bachelor’s degrees between 1940 and 2015. The study, started by Purdue President Mitch Daniels to gauge the value of college, examines college graduates’ perceptions of things like their own financial well-being, engagement at work and physical health.

“Ratings by graduates on the experiences they had during college are hugely different for black grads from HBCUs in a favorable way,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education. “What really surprised me was how big the differences are.”

According to the survey, 55% of black graduates from historically black colleges or universities strongly agree that their university prepared them well for life outside of college, compared with 29% of black graduates of non-HBCUs. And 40% of black HBCU graduates say they are doing very well financially, as opposed to 29% of black graduates form non-HBCUs.

There are 101 HBCUs across the country, and they enroll about one of every 10 black college students, said Johnny Taylor Jr., CEO and president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents 47 HBCUs, most of them public. All of the schools were established before 1964 and most were created after the Civil War in former slave states.

Changes in federal grant and student loan programs in recent years and the significantly higher unemployment rate for African-Americans have combined to hurt many HBCUs, Mr. Taylor said. Five years ago there were 105 HBCUs; four have since lost accreditation and Mr. Taylor said he anticipates an additional 10 will close over the next decade.

In the last several months, a handful of HBCUs have received downgrades by credit agencies and several have negative outlooks, including stalwarts such as Morehouse College in Georgia, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, Alabama State University and Howard University in Washington, D.C.

HBCUs have low graduation rates and high student loan default rates because many of their students come from low income households, said Marybeth Gasman, a professor at University of Pennsylvania, who has researched HBCUs.

The six-year graduation rate for African-American students at HBCUs is 37%, according to Ms. Gasman, slightly lower than the 39% for blacks at all schools.

In recent years, many HBCUs have struggled with enrollment and recruited heavily among Asians, Hispanics, international students and whites. Ms. Gasman said HBCUs are now 13% white, 3% Latino and 2% Asian.

“There is considerable research that shows that HBCUs provide an empowering environment free of White racism,” she said in an email. “This is very meaningful in today’s society.”

The survey questions are rooted in 30 years of Gallup research that shows people who feel happy and engaged in their jobs are the most productive. Previous reports from the poll, which is now in its second year, have shown that the relatively small group who report the most satisfaction with their lives didn’t disproportionately attend the prestigious schools that Americans have long believed provided a golden ticket to success. Instead, they forged meaningful connections with professors or mentors, and made significant investments in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities.

The survey asks graduates to rate their sense of well-being in five different aspects of their lives, among which are financial stability, a strong social network and a sense of purpose.

The analysis released Tuesday shows that overall just 10% of college graduates are thriving in all five categories the poll measured. But those results vary by race and gender; 11% of white men and women report they are thriving in all five areas compared with 6% of black women, 8% of black men and 8% of Hispanic men.

Asian women are the most likely of any group to report they are thriving in the category of social well-being, while Asian men are the least likely. Black female graduates are among the least likely to report they are have a strong sense of purpose. Black women and Asian men are also the least likely to report a strong sense of physical well-being.

The race and gender of students also significantly affected respondents’ perceptions of their relationships with professors during college. Thirty-six percent of black men believed they had a professor “who cared about me as a person,” compared with just 21% of Asian women.

Bob Murray, of USA Funds, a nonprofit that works to enhance educational outcomes, said the key question raised by the results was how other schools could replicate what the HBCUs are doing for black students.

”What is that magic?” Mr. Murray asked. “And how can it be enhanced or scaled to other institutions so that African-American students have a better rate of completion and better outcomes when they get into their careers.”

Write to the reporter, Douglas Belkin, at doug.belkin@wsj.com

Source: Wall Street Journal