Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

HBCU Graduation Rates in Context

June 19th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

While searching the web yesterday, I happened upon The Gradebook, an education newsblog maintained by St. Petersburg Times writer Jeffrey S. Solochek. I was pleased to read that, once again, Florida A&M University (FAMU) has been named the top producer of Black bachelor’s degree holders. According to Diverse Issues in Higher Education, FAMU graduated 1,256 Black students during the 2006-2007 school year. Click HERE to read Solocheck’s blog post on this subject.

While the blogger’s post was neutral, the readers’ comments were disturbingly negative, with respodents criticizing everything from the rigor of a FAMU education (“#1 in degrees does not mean best students, especially when you are fixing grades [ahem, law school]”) to very existince of historically Black colleges (“FAMU should be the number one school for all races and not just one. We do live in the 21st century right?”).

One poster went so far as to criticize FAMU’s graduation rate, writing, “They sure don’t talk about the 32 percent graduation rate now do they!” Apparently this poster is under the impression that FAMU’s graduation rate is so low as to call in to question the validity or relevance of FAMUs number one position as producer of Black college grads.

My research indicates that the 4- year graduation rate at Florida A&M University is somewhere between 32 and 35 percent. They’re 6-year graduation rate, which is the number most often used for comparisons between schools, is 44%. So, I’d like to put FAMU’s graduation rate into context. At the end of this post I have created a listing I have made of the graduation rates at several other U.S. public universities, including HBCUS and majority white institutions. This list reveals that FAMU’s 44% 6-year graduation rate, while low in comparison to the most selective public universities (like UC Berkeley, University of Michigan, and UCLA), falls somewhere in the middle range of public universities, in general.

None of this is to say that a 44% graduation rate is ideal. My point is that if the FAMU graduation rate calls into question the validity of its degrees or the deservedness of their graduates to be celebrated, then so too must the similar graduate rates at majority white public universities across the U.S.

Like so many other aspects of Black higher education, the graduation rate at FAMU and certain other HBCUs only seems exceptionally poor because many of those who weigh in on this subject have no idea what the numbers are for comparable white institutions. Hopefully, this listing will help move the discussion of college graduation rates beyond its most common current use as a vehicle for critiquing Black performance in higher education and on to a wide-ranging exploration of the unacceptably high attrition rates for students of all ethnicities.

A Sampling of Graduation Rates at U.S. Public Universities

Note: The graduation rates listed below represent the percention of students who complete their bachelor’s degrees within 6 years or less.

Chicago State University (HBCU) — graduation rate: 16%
Northern Illinois University (26% ethnic minorities) — graduation rate: 17%
Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne (10.2% ethnic minorities) — graduation rate: 22%
Boise State University (7% African American) — graduation rate: 26%
Idaho State University (<10% ethnic minorities) — graduation rate: 27%
Kennesaw State University (12.1% underrep. minorities) — graduation rate: 30.3%
Ferris State University (14-15% ethnic minorities) — graduation rate: 34.7%
University of Nevada – Las Vegas (18.7% underrep. minorities) — graduation rate: 37.8%
San Francisco State University (19.5% underrep. minorities) — graduation rate: 38.5%
Grambling State University (39%) — graduation rate: 39%
Middle Tennessee State University (13.7% underrep. minorities) — graduation rate: 39.6%
Arkansas State University (15% ethnic minorities ) — graduation rate: 40%
California State University, Northridge (majority minority*) — graduation rate: 40%
Eastern Michigan University (16% Black students) — graduation rate: 41%
Georgia State University (45.9% ethnic minorities) — graduation rate: 41%
Florida A&M University (HBCU) — graduation rate: 44%
California State University, Fresno (majority minority*) — graduation rate: 46%
Florida International University (53% Latino/a) — graduation rate: 48%
University of Hawaii, Manoa (61% Asian American) — graduation rate: 51%
Hampton University (HBCU) — graduation rate:52%
Arizona State University (23% minority enrollment) — graduation rate: 56%
Oregon State University (6% underrep. minorities) — graduation rate: 60.6%
Howard University (HBCU) — graduation rate: 63%

*majority minority refers to campuses on no one ethnic group (including white students) constitutes 50% or more of the student body.


Toward An Understanding of FAMU

NCAA Report on the Federal Graduation-Rates Data

Posted in Black Students, FAMU, graduation rates, HBCUs, Higher Education, race, Uncategorized

4 Responses

  1. Mari-Djata

    This is a great post. I really dislike when people diss HBCUs, especially FAMU (my second choice for undergrad) because they do not know the history of these institutions and, as posted, HWCUs aren’t faring much better. FAMU is a great school with great academics and what they lack in average graduating scores, they make up with culture and a feeling of unity.

  2. me

    this is a stunt to make howard look good.. where is clafin and florida a&m and spellman???

  3. Latasha

    I like this article. People must also understand the history and current struggles of HBCUs, as well as black people in general. HBCUs lack the same federal funding as majority white instututions, making their adengas difficult to manage. Also,a student graduation depends on the individual not the school. I have seen many students neglect their studies to party. If anything, FAMU professors are harder on blacks than white institutions, making us work harder, giving us more knowledge and motivation when we get in the real world and have to compete against our white counterparts for jobs. FAMU is a great school. I graduated within four years and so did my 2 best friends at FAM, and I going to be getting my masters degree in Decemeber so FAMU helped me come along way.

  4. Drew

    Howard’s grad rate is closer to 80% now.