Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Penn professor issues report on historically black universities

A higher education professor at Penn found that historically black universities are becoming more diverse and continue to face challenges.

Student enrollment at the nation's 105 historically black colleges and universities has become increasingly diverse, while the institutions continue to face challenges in graduation rates, fundraising and other areas, according to an inaugural report by a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

"In many places where these data show HBCUs lagging behind their national counterparts," the report says, "the disconnect reflects less on the institutions themselves than on the tendency in the United States to invest in students who need the least help instead of those who need the most. What is striking is how successful HBCUs have been in educating traditionally underserved students despite the many obstacles these institutions face."

The report includes well-known elite institutions such as Morehouse, Howard and Spellman and local universities, including Cheyney - part of the state's system - and Lincoln, a state-related university. The report was prepared by higher education professor Marybeth Gasman, who specializes in the study of historically black universities, and her research team.

"I've seen a number of people issuing statements about HBCUs and having absolutely no data," Gasman said in an interview. "So I thought why don't we actually look at that data. And if we can't find something on a national scale, let's go after that information ourselves."

In 1950, blacks made up nearly 100 percent of the schools' enrollment, the report noted. Today, 61 percent of students identify as black and account for 11 percent of the black enrollment in higher education institutions around the country. The proportion of Hispanic students has grown over the last 30 years, and they now account for two percent of the enrollment at HBCUs. More than 4,300 students are Asian, a 60 percent increase from 2001, though still only accounting for one percent of the enrollment.

Two races or more make up 18 percent of the enrollment, white 10 percent, international students seven percent and race unknown seven percent, according to the report.

Females outnumber males at the institutions in a greater proportion than the national average.

The average six-year graduation rates for HBCUs is about 30 percent, compared to the national rate of 55.5 percent and 37.5 for African American students overall.

Gasman cautions that many of the students at HBCU schools are low income, first generation and that overall, HBCUs tend to enroll students with lower SAT scores.

"Students with these characteristics are less likely to graduate no matter where they attend college," the report noted.

The report also calls for more students to take advantage of study abroad programs. According to the report, 58 percent of the institutions offer study abroad programs.

And, the schools should focus more on fundraising by hiring more fundraisers of color and who understand the HBCU environment, teaching students at orientation the importance of giving back to their institution, forming partnerships with community organizations and coordinating with the agendas of public and private funders.

Private universities nationally had an average endowment of $223 million in 2009, compared to $38 million at private HBCUs, the report said. The average endowment for public universities was $87 million, compared to $49 million for public HBCUs, the report said. In the case of HBCUs, the public schools actually tend to have more resources than the smaller, private universities, she noted.

Faculty at HBCUs are underpaid compared to their counterparts elsewhere and tend to shoulder larger teaching loads. Full professors at HBCUs earn little more than half of what their counterparts are paid, the report said.

Nationally, the average pay for a full-time professor was $113,176, compared to $78,653 at public HBCUs, and $58,546 at private HBCUs.

The report also looks at university leadership. Presidential leadership terms are shorter than the national average - six years compared to 8.5. HBCU presidents lag in use of social media, the report said. More than 50 percent of college presidents nationally are active on Facebook and Twitter, the reports says, citing a 2011 survey. Of HBCU presidents, 13 percent are active on Facebook and 12 percent on Twitter, the report said.

Gasman said her research team gathered its own information on the use of social media by HBCU presidents, as well as for some other categories, including study abroad. For other items, the team relied on existing survey and data from other sources.

The report was made public last week and comes as the university prepares to start a Center for Minority Serving Institutions in January, said Gasman. The center will be doing more research on HBCUs, as well Hispanic-serving institutions and others.

The HBCU universities increasingly are becoming more welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, the report said, noting that 21 have LGBT student organizations.