By Ryan Coleman
The National Bureau of Economic Research suggests predominantly White institutions can learn how to better support Black students by implementing best practices from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
This past year, Black students from George Washington Carver Arts and Technology High School, Western Tech, Randallstown, Pikesville, New Town and other high schools decided to choose HBCUs. One of those students is my amazing daughter, who gained admission to Ivy League Schools, top schools in Maryland and out of state. However, she chose the “Mecca,” the beacon of Black thought…Howard University (Howard).
She chose Howard because of its diverse and inclusive community that celebrates the richness of the entire American experience. Her grandmother and cousins attended Howard and our family has ties to a founder of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. This is something that a predominately white institute (PWI) could never offer.
There has been a narrative that Howard and other HBCUs are lesser than other universities. Racism emboldens people to think, feel and behave in racist ways. It legitimizes the over representation and idealization of White Americans, while marginalizing and minimizing Black Americans. In this case, the false narrative is that PWIs are better than HBCUs. Don’t believe the hype!
Howard’s admission rate was 7 percent percent for the class of 2027. Harvard’s admission rate is 4 percent. Howard has an average GPA of 3.6, while UCLA has an average in-state GPA of 3.5. Howard has an average SAT score of 1240, while Loyola, in Maryland, has an average SAT score of 1240. Howard has an average ACT score of 26, while the University of Baltimore average ACT score is 20. Howard University is America’s number one institution for producing Black applicants to U.S. medical schools, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Nearly 150 years ago, eight students entered Howard University’s College of Medicine. Today, it enrolls more than 300 African American students–more than double the number attending predominantly White medical schools. This is not surprising, as Howard has a lengthy list of notable alumni, including– but certainly not limited to: Edna Brown Coleman, Deverne Coleman, Gene Adams, Marty Adams, Bertha Pitts Campbell, Kamala Harris, Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Phylicia Rashad, Zora Neale Hurston, Letitia James, Vernon Jordan, Kenny Lattimore, Douglas Wilder, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Young Guru, Elijah Cummings, just to name a few.
HBCUs’ success with supporting Black students comes from their emphasis on “Black identity formation,” which can boost self-confidence and academic performance; curricula and strong pathways to graduate education. PWI’s should follow HBCUs’ lead, including tailoring parts of their curriculum and first-year experiences to include Black culture, exposing Black students to Black faculty members and alumni and engaging them in co-curricular activities related to activism.
HBCUs actually outperform PWIs in providing an excellent, affordable education. Research shows that HBCUs provide a better educational experience for their students than comparable non-HBCUs. HBCUs have, on average, a higher graduation rate than comparable non-HBCUs. A recent Gallup survey found that despite challenges, HBCUs are successfully providing black graduates with a better college experience, with greater financial and social well-being, and higher levels of satisfaction than they would get at PWIs.
College graduates, in general, enjoy higher incomes, greater intergenerational wealth, better health care, and enhanced quality of life, and few institutions can match the job that HBCUs do in achieving these results.
Now we understand why some individuals want HBCUs to fail. HBCUs have been underfunded for years, leading to lawsuits in Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina. In 2021, Maryland reached a $577 million settlement to end a fifteen-year-old lawsuit over inequities in state funding for Morgan State University and three other HBCUs. In 2002, the Ayers case resulted in a $503 million settlement to three public Mississippi HBCUs over seventeen years. A Tennessee legislative committee recently acknowledged the state failed to meet its obligations to fund Tennessee State University by $150 million to $544 million.
Under Title III of the Higher Education Act, HBCUs receive a modest infusion of federal grant support—about $500 million annually—because of their unique contributions to American higher education. Under the Biden administration, HBCUs gained more prominence in federal policy, recently receiving an uptick in federal funding—approximately $2.7 billion in COVID-related aid—to help them recover from the economic shock of the pandemic. This targeted federal aid, however, does not create an even playing field for HBCUs. They must still overcome decades of inadequate grant aid, limited ability to raise tuition without negatively impacting students, boom and bust cycles of philanthropic support and stark disparities in public financing.
The time is now and we cannot delay. I implore us all to give donations to HBCUs and demand our elected officials fund our HBCUs appropriately. Ryan Coleman can be reached at email@example.com.