In recent years, there has been a push to study the outcomes of college. Americans, concerned about the increasing cost of higher education, are more interested in making sure that they receive value for their limited resources they commit to college. However, many of the websites simply list facts and figures devoid of context, leaving it up to parents and students to try to figure out what this all means.
Recently, Gallup, along with USA Funds, released a new study on the impact of college. This study focused on the experiences of African-Americans while in college, as well as their success after college. Graduates were compared based on what type of college they attended — historically black, or predominantly white.
In five categories of well-being (purpose, social, financial, community and physical), historically black college (HBCU) graduates indicated they were thriving in all at higher levels than black students who attended predominantly white schools, with the largest difference in financial well-being (40 percent for HBCU grads versus 29 percent for graduates of predominantly white colleges).
The survey justified these differences based on experiences in college. HBCU grads had the support and experiential learning opportunities which led to their well-being later in life. They were more likely to have had a professor who cared about them as a person (58 percent to 25 percent), a mentor that encouraged them to pursue goals and dreams (42 percent to 23 percent) and a job or internship that allowed them to apply concepts (41 percent to 31 percent). In all eight areas, HBCU grads had better experiences.
Since Brown v. Board of Education, the percentage of black students who attend HBCUs has dropped from over 90 percent to 9 percent today. Many hail this as a testament to improved race relations and integration. But, this month was a wake-up call as the nation saw black students at the University of Missouri take down two top administrators for lack of action to address repeated racist incidents. Many of those students described a campus climate that helps to explain the Gallup survey results.
The message is simple: Just because you can do something doesn’t make it good for you.
Many left HBCUs based on a theory that better-funded predominantly white schools would produce a “better” education. Therefore, we should expect better results for black students who have accessed this higher quality education. But, other studies present bad news.
Recently, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that there were fewer black men in medical school in 2014 than there were in 1978. Fewer during three decades when total black college enrollment nearly triples, almost all of it at white schools. Similar numbers exist for law schools. In 2010, a Columbia University study indicated that between 1993 and 2008, law schools added over 3,000 seats, but overall black enrollment actually decreased. Again, more students, fewer admitted to law school.
Despite tremendous growth in the number of black students accessing higher education, with students now overwhelmingly choosing predominantly white schools, black students are less likely now to gain admittance to professional schools even with majority college diplomas.
I am a graduate of three predominantly white universities. I had fulfilling experiences in spite of experiencing some of the same racism black students experience today — experiences chronicled in depth in the soon-to-be-released book, “Blackballed,” by Lawrence Ross, who is scheduled to speak at Dillard on Feb. 23. I still believe some black students, those like me who understand what to expect, can thrive at a predominantly white university if it is a good fit.
But too many black undergraduates are attending schools that are not a good fit for them based on a false notion that these are “better” schools. Many high school counselors espouse this ideology devoid of these facts, not considering that there may be limited mentoring, support, and involvement opportunities for their students. They, too, must view HBCUs objectively if they truly want their students to succeed. It is time to reconsider HBCUs for college. The research paints a clear picture that attending a majority university is not a clear path to prosperity for black students, and for many, it may be a road to regret.
Walter Kimbrough is president of Dillard University.