Black Students at HBCUs Are 40% More Likely to Earn Bachelor’s Degrees: Report

A new study from Brown University suggests that HBCUs are more successful in graduating Black students than non-HBCUs.
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Published on December 5, 2023
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  • Students with SAT scores below the median who attended less selective historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were impacted the most.
  • HBCUs graduate 50% of Black lawyers, 80% of Black judges, 40% of Black engineers, 40% of Black Congress members, 50% of Black public school teachers, 50% of Black faculty at research universities, and 27% of Black science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) undergraduates according to the study.
  • Students are 100% more likely to choose and complete STEM majors at HBCUs than non-HBCU attendees.

A new study suggests that historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are more successful in graduating Black students than non-HBCUs.

The Annenberg Institute at Brown University used data in its study from 1.2 million Black SAT takers who turned 30 between 2014 and 2020 to examine whether HBCUs improve Black students' educational, economic, and financial outcomes in the U.S.

HBCUs enroll nearly one-tenth of all Black college students in the United States at over 100 institutions. The study analyzed Black HBCU and non-HBCU enrollees to determine impacts on college enrollment, completion, estimated household income, credit scores, student loans, mortgages, and ZIP codes around age 30.

According to the study, HBCUs graduate:

According to the study, Black students who initially enroll in HBCUs are 40% more likely to earn bachelor's degrees than students who do not attend HBCUs. HBCU attendees are less likely to complete associate degrees, which the study attributes to the fact that HBCUs are typically four-year institutions.

The study found that these outcomes mainly impacted students with SAT scores below the median who attend less selective HBCUs.

"These results suggest that relatively broad-access HBCUs are improving the educational and labor market outcomes of their enrollees," the study says.

"In fact, even after controlling for institutional characteristics, such as the average SAT of enrollees and level of institution, we still find that initially enrolling in an HBCU improves students' longer-term outcomes. In other words, something about HBCUs appears to positively impact our outcomes of interest above and beyond common measures of institutional selectivity. Researchers occasionally refer to this as the 'secret sauce' … of HBCUs."

HBCU enrollees are also more likely to choose and complete higher-earning majors, according to the study, and HBCU students are 100% more likely to earn a STEM degree than non-HBCU enrollees.

While Black students typically choose higher-earning majors at HBCUs, they also accrue more debt.

Students who begin at HBCUs had an average of $12,000 more debt around age 30 than non-HBCU enrollees. It's likely explained, according to the study, by HBCU attendees enrolling in more expensive colleges than non-HBCU enrollees, HBCU enrollees enrolling for longer periods, and additional loans that may be needed to complete prerequisites to attend most graduate schools.

Those who had enrolled in an HBCU showed 7% less probability of having a mortgage at age 30, yet they were 30% less likely to be in bankruptcy by 30.

The study's authors said they hope parents, high school counselors, and Black students use the study to consider what college to attend. The authors also said they hope policymakers and funders use the study to see that HBCUs may be vital to giving Black students more equitable access to the higher education system.

Despite the success HBCUs have in graduating Black students, these institutions have been historically underfunded for over a century.

Recently, HBCU students and alums have been fighting for proper funding for their universities.

Within the year, North Carolina HBCU students and alums have threatened to sue the state if it doesn't address underfunding to the university. And Georgia HBCU alums sued in November, accusing the state and university system of underfunding three state HBCUs.

According to the Department of Education, 16 state governors owe their respective HBCUs $12 billion, with Tennessee State University (TSU) being owed the most at $2.1 billion.

Last month, TSU students consulted Ben Crump, attorney for the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Trayvon Martin, to investigate their options to get the $2.1 billion for their school.

In Philadelphia, Lincoln University students walked 66 miles to the state Capitol to demand lawmakers approve a bill that would provide $19 million in critical funding to their university. According to CBS News Philadelphia, lawmakers responded with a $640 million funding bill for Lincoln and three other universities, which made it through the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"These historic institutions have played an important role in giving Black students access to higher education when other institutions were unavailable due to segregation," the study says. "HBCUs have faced many challenges over the last century, such as inadequate funding, state and court legislators requiring justification of their existence, and questions about their quality.

"This research demonstrates that the historically outsized role played by HBCUs in granting access to Black students and supplying talented Black graduates to the American economy still holds for 21st century graduates."