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Report: HBCUs produce higher incomes, more prosperity for students

By Nisa Islam Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Nov 1, 2019 - 9:45:29 AM

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Moving up and moving on

Black students excel after graduating from HBCUs, according to a recent report. Photo:

The long rich history and ongoing current need for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) cannot be denied. These institutions have been vehicles for social justice movements, hubs for Black activism and have produced some of the greatest minds and luminaries in Black thought and consciousness.

Black college students benefit greatly from HBCUs not only in terms of culture and environment, but also for academics and a path toward success, advocates point out. A recent report delves into another benefit and importance of HBCUs.

More students experience upward mobility at HBCUs than at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), according to a new report released by the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

“Over the past few years, a number of researchers have begun to seriously look at mobility, specifically, those colleges and universities that are pathways to people from modest means to achieve the American dream,” Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Dillard University explains in the report.

“These studies have highlighted the awesome work of America’s HBCUs, a sector where over two-thirds of students are Pell Grant eligible, but as a sector has been able to achieve the greatest results in terms of mobility to the middle class and beyond. Dillard University has played a significant role in this work, always enrolling a high number of low-income students yet creating a campus culture, which supports them not only through college but leads them on a path to a new level of prosperity for their families,” he continued.


A Rutgers report found Black students perform better and experience greater success after graduating from HBCUs, compared to those who attend predominately White Schools.

The report entitled, “Moving Upward and Onward: Income Mobility at Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” examines the intergenerational income mobility of recent HBCU graduates and explores upward mobility variations and economic stratification based on institution type.

According to the report, HBCUs enroll far more low-income students than PWIs. More specifically, the report claims that nearly one-quarter of HBCU students are low-income and more than half of all HBCU students come from households in the bottom 40 percent of the U.S. income distribution. “This report builds upon many researchers’ earlier work about HBCUs and their economic impact,” said Marybeth Gasman, one of the report’s authors and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. “HBCUs are doing a tremendous job fostering pathways to upward mobility, particularly for low-income students, and they are doing this with often limited resources.”

There are 101 HBCUs across the country. Fifty were referenced in the study sample. According to the National Center for Education Statistics in the fall of 2015, the combined total enrollment of all HBCUs was 293,000, compared with 234,000 in 1980.

According to Pew Research the percentage of HBCU students who were either White, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, or Native American was 17 percent in 2015, up from 13 percent in 1980. Enrollment of Hispanic students has grown on HBCU campuses, increasing from 1.6 percent in 1980 to 4.6 percent in 2015.

To calculate upward mobility, the Rutger’s report used the student’s income as an indicator of their economic position. It tracked the mobility rate of students as compared to the incomes of their parents. Was there an American Dream rags-to-riches leap or just a move to the middle class?

Nearly 70 percent of HBCU students attain at least middle class incomes and most low-income HBCU students can expect to improve their long-term economic position and there is less downward mobility for students at HBCUs than at PWIs.

Some of the most highly ranked HBCUs, such as Howard University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College, propel more than one-third of their low-income students into the top fifth of income earners.

Tuskegee University, Bennett College, Florida A&M University, Dillard University, and Clark Atlanta University also do a particularly good job fostering upward mobility for their large share of low-income students.


Xavier University is the top-ranked HBCU for fostering mobility into at least the middle class. Approximately 80 percent of their students attain middle class status. Other HBCUs, such as Prairie View A&M University, Elizabeth City State University, and Tennessee State University also create middle class opportunities for more than 70 percent of their students.

Khabir Muhammad, Class of 2013, went to Morehouse. He told The Final Call, “Going to Morehouse was an amazing life changing experience. I transferred as a junior, but they did not accept all of my credits, so I started as a sophomore. They didn’t accept me initially. I had a long talk with the dean, and he admitted me with the caveat that I had to pay for it.”

He received grants and loans but worked real hard to achieve a 3.75 grade point average after his first semester. “I qualified for a scholarship and the rest of my time at Morehouse was paid for. My experience was great. I came from the West Coast where most schools are PWIs. HBCUs have more culture. The people looked like me and gave me more insight into Black people from all around the world. I got a better image of what I could become by being there.”

The report was done by the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions. The center brings together researchers and practitioners from HBCUs, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions.

The center’s goals are to elevate the educational contributions of minority serving institutions, ensuring that they are a part of national conversations and bringing awareness to the vital role these institutions play in the nation’s economic development. The center also hopes to increase the rigorous scholarship of these institutions, connect them to academic and administrative leadership to promote reform initiatives; and strengthen efforts to close educational achievement gaps among disadvantaged communities.

HBCUs have far fewer institutional resources per student than PWIs, with less than one third of the endowment per student at PWIs, though both types of institutions spend similar amounts on instruction.

The report explains that far more HBCUs are public institutions than PWIs, and the average SAT scores of students at HBCUs are significantly lower than students at PWIs. The sticker price of attendance at HBCUs is lower than their PWI counterparts, but, critically, the net cost of attendance for the bottom fifth of students based on income profiles, a more accurate measure of the holistic cost of attendance, indicates that HBCUs are not significantly different than PWIs.

Lamar Tucker graduated from South Carolina State, class of 1989. “It was the best decision I ever made going to an HBCU. I was accepted to other schools but didn’t want to leave the state. I learned more there than I would have anywhere else. The professors care about you beyond what happens in the classroom,” he told The Final Call.

“I’m an accountant now with more confidence and self-esteem than my Black co-workers who attended PWIs. I clearly see the difference. My children will all attend HBCUs. No questions about it.”

Students at HBCUs are more likely to major in STEM, social science, and public and social service fields and less likely to major in arts and humanities and multi/ interdisciplinary studies.

But there is still work to do. Fewer students graduate within six years at HBCUs and, 10 years after enrollment, HBCU students’ median earnings are approximately one-quarter (over $10,000) lower than their counterparts at PWIs.

And according to the report, the perpetuation of economic privilege is not as strong for students at HBCUs as compared to PWIs. “In other words, being born into a relatively affluent African American family does not provide the same sort of class safety net as does being born into a White family,” the report notes.

“College attendance is not a panacea. HBCUs are doing a great deal while students are enrolled, but upon postsecondary exit students still need to enter the workforce and lead lives as adults in the United States. Our study suggests that entering the workforce and moving forward in one’s career is still harder to do for African Americans than for Whites,” authors noted.

However, the good news is HBCUs are responsible for 40 percent of the Black members of Congress, 12.5 percent of CEOs, 40 percent of engineers, 50 percent of professors at non-HBCUs, 50 percent of lawyers and 80 percent of judges. “This report’s focus on the student success rate distinguishes it from other research on HBCU economic mobility. By examining students’ mobility after accounting for their origins, this report provides a more holistic understanding of economic mobility and more accurately describes the mobility trajectory of students at an HBCU,” explained Robert Nathenson, the report’s lead author.

Jamillah Harris is a junior biology major at North Carolina A&T. She’s from Greensboro, North Carolina and loves her school. She told The Final Call, “Going to an HBCU showed me the many faces of Black geniuses. It’s making me work harder than I imagined and I’m enjoying every minute.”

Mr. Muhammad agrees that the academics were more rigorous than he expected also. “The instructors wanted us to be 10 times greater than those who graduate from PWIs. They held our feet to the fire. They want us to struggle to teach us life lessons. I appreciate the experience. HBCUs put more into us.”

(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)