A new study released by the Education Trust details how graduation rates have improved for black students at predominantly white public institutions over the last 16 years, but that gaps remain in overall completion rates in comparison to white students.
The data suggests that PWIs are doing considerable work to attract, keep and graduate a pool of black students who, by admissions standards and typical racial indicators within higher education contexts, is supposed to do well. But, these schools are starting to learn that even the best and brightest of our students need a push when on campuses and dealing with racial isolation.
Inside Higher Ed reports on how Ohio State University became an outlier in the report, reducing its white and black achievement gap by more than eight percent.
At Ohio State University, the graduation rate for black students has increased by 25.6 percentage points since 2003 and the gap between black and white students has narrowed by 8.6 points. The report suggests that those gains can be partially credited to the university’s Young Scholars Program, which connects low-income, mostly black middle school students to a college-preparation curriculum and provides a need-based scholarship if they later enroll at the university.
Once at Ohio State, the students also meet once a month with a success coach. The report suggested that mentoring and advising focused on black students has been an effective way to close the achievement gap between black and white students.
Ohio State is working to perfect a modified version of the time-tested formula of HBCU student preparation and matriculation: start students young, get them enrolled, and support them through to graduation. Our system is different from that at OSU: college prep curriculum is replaced by an environmental conditioning program from parents, relatives, secondary teachers and neighbors who all vouch for the HBCU experience.
The success coach is replaced with professors, athletic coaches, administrators, housekeeping and ground staff who keep a watchful eye and attentive ear on students who show promise while on campus. But if Ohio State, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and other PWIs are learning how to keep black students on track and on time to graduate, how are HBCUs countering their efforts? What are we doing to create new demand in the higher ed marketplace for black students?
New dialog is churning around the prospects of ‘micro-agressions’ and ‘safe spaces,’ but UConn faces potential civil rights issues over creating racially homogenous space for black males on campus. The opposing views show that while many of the nation’s black students are turning back to HBCUs as a primary college choice, we are probably still years away from black colleges returning as the premier college choice.
So how do HBCU recalibrate academic programs, corporate relationships and professional networking to match the cultural advantages they hold over predominantly white colleges? Beyond the family atmosphere, the faculty who care, the alumni who come back and love on the school and the unique view of the African diaspora through the lens of higher learning, what are the ways in which HBCUs can enhance the educational product, to match the ‘product buying’ experience?
Schools can’t create and finance new programs overnight, but public HBCUs can lobby for governing boards to approve new focuses within existing programs to match the industrial needs of their cities and states. They can create articulation agreements with PWIs to entice collaborative entry into competitive fields, like North Carolina A&T’s law degree partnership with Elon University.
Private HBCUs can more easily pivot the industrial focus of academic programs for stronger professional outcomes. Even if the signature programs of strength are in teacher education, agriculture, mass communications or liberal arts, there is entrepreneurship and civic connectivity hiding inside every degree and every graduate who earns one.
PWIs have the resources, the marketing power and the brand recognition to create a carbon copy of the HBCU experience for faculty and students who want the culture of black colleges with the industrial appeal of a PWI degree. Increased interest and applications to HBCUs may rise in the next few years, but PWIs have already adapted and are feverishly working to mitigate losses from the Black Lives Matter movement of 2015.
Will HBCUs be ready to slip the counterpunch?