HBCUs remain crucial to access in higher ed

Historically black colleges and universities enroll and graduate outsized share of black students in their states
By: | July 8, 2019
HBCUs enroll and graduate one-quarter of all black college students in the states in which the institutions operate, a new United Negro College Fund report says.HBCUs enroll and graduate one-quarter of all black college students in the states in which the institutions operate, a new United Negro College Fund report says.

Historically black colleges and universities remain as relevant as ever in giving African Americans access to higher education, says a new United Negro College Fund report.

HBCUs enroll and graduate one-quarter of all black college students in the states in which the institutions operate, according to HBCUs Punching Above Their Weight,” a new report by the UNCF Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute.

“The findings are just confirmation of what the HBCU leadership community has been saying all along,” says Roderick L. Smothers, president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas. “When you look at the outcomes, one has to pause to ask how our institutions are doing this miraculous work with the resources we have.”

While HBCUs comprise just 8.5% of the country’s four-year institutions, these schools award 26% of the bachelor’s degrees and 32% of the STEM degrees earned by black students, the report says.

The institutions also help power local, regional and national economies, generating 134,090 jobs and $14.8 billion each year. In Arkansas, findings such as these help college leaders win support from lawmakers, philanthropists, and business community and other organization members, Smothers says.

“If you put 100 HBCU presidents in the room, and asked what their most critical needs are, I think we would all say, ‘scholarships for students and money to close the affordability gap.’”

Continuing appeal

Philander Smith College, which opened in 1887, has doubled its enrollment over the last four years, from about 520 students to over 1,000. And the wider overall uptick in HBCU enrollment proves the institutions still hold great appeal for students and their families, says Brian Bridges, the United Negro College Fund’s vice president for research and member engagement.


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“Given the contentious discourse taking place in the country and on campus, particularly around race, individuals have told me that HBCUs are places where they can be their full and authentic selves,” Bridges says.

Prospective students also gravitate toward HBCUs because the schools continue to produce successful graduates, Smothers adds.

“When you see the number of STEM graduates, the number of quality educators being produced, and the number of national and global leaders, a real positive argument is created that says our graduates are doing transformative work,” Smothers says.


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Ultimately, the report provides further evidence that HBCUs continue to play a key role in U.S. higher education.

“It counters the narrative that HBCUs are relics of the past—that they’re dying on the vine,” Bridges says. “Our data demonstrates that these institutions are thriving and are contributing educationally and economically.”

Matt Zalaznick is senior writer.