Different Students, Different Outcomes?
In the 1970s, students attending HBCUs had an 11 percent advantage over their Black counterparts at traditionally White institutions in terms of economic gains. By the 1990s, Blacks at HBCUs were behind 14 percent in terms of salary.– “HBCU Graduates Earn Less Than Black Graduates Of Traditionally White Institutions,” DIHE, 05/17/07
A May 17th article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education reports that a recent study has concluded that African Americans who graduate from majority white colleges and universities earn more money than African Americans who graduate from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The study, conducted by Roland G. Fryer and Michael Greenstone, hypothesizes that the current discrepancy between the salaries of African American graduates from traditionally white institutions (TWIs) and Black graduates of HBCUs could be due to the improvements made by TWIs in educating Black students.
I looked up the abstract for Fryer and Greenstone’s study, published as M.I.T. Working Paper No. 07-12, to get a better sense of their research on this issue. The following passage from the abstract summarizes their conclusions:
Between the 1970s and 1990s, HBCU students report statistically significant declines in the proportion that would choose the same college again, preparation for getting along with other racial groups, and development of leadership skills, relative to black students in TWIs. On the positive side, HBCU attendees became relatively more likely to be engaged in social, political, and philanthropic activities. The data provide modest support for the possibility that HBCUs’ relative decline in wages is partially due to improvements in TWIs’ effectiveness at educating blacks. The data contradict a number of other intuitive explanations, including relative decline in pre-college credentials (e.g., SAT scores) of students attending HBCUs and expenditures per student at HBCUs.
While Fryer and Greenstone have excluded differences in SAT scores and per-student expenditures as possible explanations for the income gap between Black grads of TWIs and Black grads of HBCUs, I believe that other intuitive explanations remain relevant, like class and acculturation/exposure to the culture and expectations of four-year college education. While the authors of this study go into great detail about the 89 HBCUs that are the focus of their work, they provide considerably less information about the historically white institutions in their research, describing them simply as “comparable.” The question that remains wholly unaddressed, however, is whether or not the students themselves are comparable.
Despite whatever features may link the TWIs and HBCUs examined in this study, the likelihood is that the Black institutions enrolled more GED recipients, more impoverished students, more first generation college students, and more “at-risk” students than the white schools to which they are compared. NAFEO president Lezli Baskerville notes that, “HBCUs educate a significant proportion of low-income, Pell Grant-eligible students,” and asks, ”Did the authors control for similar criteria at TWIs? That would make a difference in outcomes.”
Lezli Baskerville and NAFEO have invited Fryer and Greenstone to elaborate on their research at an upcoming conference (July 2007). It is my hope that they will seize this opportunity to address the many questions that have arisen as a result of their challenging and provactive work.
Posted by Ajuan Mance