This past week, the United States Commission on Civil Rights released a report on the educational effectiveness of HBCU’s. Although the data from the report is a few years old, there is much to be learned from and confirmed by the Commission’s findings.
Relying on expert testimony from leading researchers, policy analysts, and national leaders, the Commission found the following:
• Although HBCU students tend to have lower SAT scores and high-school grades than their African-American counterparts at historically white institutions (HWI’s), they produce 40 percent of black science and engineering degrees with only 20 percent of black enrollment.
• Faculty members’ dedication to teaching, student-support networks, encouragement to pursue leadership posts in their fields of study, and the availability and access of faculty role models help to explain the success of an HBCU education—both empirically and anecdotally.
• HBCU students are 1.5 times more likely than their counterparts at HWI’s to collaborate with a faculty member on a research project.
• Given lower funding levels and the underprepared nature of some students, HBCU’s are “doing a much better job” than HWI’s in educating African American students.
• Of the top 21 undergraduate producers of African-American science Ph.D.s, 17 were HBCU’s. Of note, many of those students would have been considered underprepared by majority institutions.
• Nearly half of the nation’s African-American teachers graduated from HBCU’s, though this fact is rarely acknowledged.
• Students without optimal academic credentials are much more likely to succeed at an HBCU because of the supportive environment.
• African-American students are more engaged, both socially and academically, on HBCU campuses than at HWI’s.
• HBCU students are more likely to give to charity and to be more politically active.
• HBCU students are more likely to participate in service learning and religious activities.
One of the most important recommendations in the Commission’s report is for HWI’s to carefully study the success of HBCU’s, especially in the sciences, and to emulate that success and the best practices that lead to it. Too often, researchers and policymakers only think about the ways that HBCU’s can learn from majority schools, forgetting that these historic institutions have much to teach us about educating black and low-income students.
Although the Commission does not recommend areas for research, there is much to be learned by those interested in pursuing research on HBCU’s embedded in this report. A quick read will show the gaps in the research on HBCU’s—the many unanswered questions that need attention. I urge young scholars interested in African-American education, access, and degree attainment to read the report and use it to shape their research agendas.