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Two centuries after the first historically Black colleges and universities were founded, the 101 accredited HBCUs1M. Hammond, L. Owens, & B. Gulko, HBCUs Transforming Generations: Social Mobility Outcomes for HBCU Alumni. Washington, DC: UNCF, 2021. in operation today continue to deliver on their legacy of expanding educational opportunity for Black students that leads to successful and fulfilling lives. The degree of social mobility HBCUs generate for their graduates is more than double the national average as measured by the percentage of students from the bottom two income quintiles who end up in the top three quintiles.2Ibid. The mobility rate used by UNCF measures the percentage of students, out of all students enrolled at the institution, who come from an income level in the bottom 40 percent and move into an income level in the top 60 percent. HBCUs have achieved a mobility rate of 34.3 percent, compared with the national average of 15.8 percent. Their graduates make up 50 percent of Black doctors and Black attorneys,3Ibid. 40 percent of Black engineers and Black members of Congress,4Frankki Bevins et al., “How HBCUs can accelerate Black economic mobility,” McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, June 30, 2021. and 80 percent of Black judges.5M. Hammond, L. Owens, & B. Gulko, HBCUs Transforming Generations: Social Mobility Outcomes for HBCU Alumni, UNCF, 2021. Given this high degree of mobility and career success, what can we learn from the practices of HBCUs? How does an HBCU student’s experience differ from those of their peers at other institutions?
The student and alumni successes are even more remarkable given the disparities in financial resources. The percentage of low-income students enrolled at HBCUs is double that of non-HBCUs, as measured by Pell eligibility.6Frankki Bevins et al., “How HBCUs can accelerate Black economic mobility,” McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, June 30, 2021. HBCUs themselves have two-thirds the revenue to spend on students that other colleges have.7Dick Startz, “When it comes to student success, HBCUs do more with less.” Brookings Institution, January 18, 2021. HBCUs have seen the steepest cuts in federal funding per student, and most have only a fraction of the endowments of non-HBCUs.8Krystal L. Williams and BreAnna L. Davis, “Public and Private Investments and Divestments in Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” American Council on Education and UNCF, January 2019. It’s clear that “HBCUs do more with less.”9Dick Startz, “When it comes to student success, HBCUs do more with less.” Brookings Institution, January 18, 2021.
To better understand the HBCU experience, we analyzed data from three recent surveys of students and alumni — the Strada Education Survey, the Strada Outcomes Survey, and the National Survey of Student Engagement. A pattern of insights emerges from the results of these studies, revealing an HBCU student experience characterized by dedicated faculty and mentors, learning experiences that have clear relevance and value beyond the classroom, and career-focused support that enables students to flourish after graduation.
Self-reported outcomes for Black HBCU alumni and students are stronger than those of Black alumni from non-HBCUs across a wide range of dimensions, from overall satisfaction to the development of valuable skills.
Students and alumni at HBCUs experience an engaged community of faculty, staff, mentors, and professionals that support the development of their careers at a greater level than their peers at non-HBCUs.
Black students are more actively engaged in career development activities at HBCUs compared to non-HBCUs.
Research experiences and digital literacy skills are two notable areas where HBCU students are less likely than their non-HBCU peers to report value. Greater investments to make these resources available are indicated.
Alumni of HBCUs are more satisfied with their educational experiences than Black alumni of other institutions are. This satisfaction translates into higher ratings of the quality and value of the institutions they attended. In an Urban Institute analysis of Strada Education Network data,10Erica Blom and Dominique Baker, “Understanding Racial and Ethnic Differences in the College Experience,” Urban Institute, February 2022. compared to their peers who attended other institutions, black HBCU attendees are particularly more likely to report they learned important skills they use in their day-to-day life and to believe that their education makes them an attractive candidate to employers (see Figure 1). This combination of satisfaction with quality and value in addition to the enduring benefits in professional and day-to-day living is a strong endorsement of the education experiences HBCUs provide.
Source: Erica Blom and Dominique Baker, “Understanding Racial and Ethnic Differences in the College Experience,” Urban Institute, February 2022.
Additional Strada analysis of the same data indicates Black attendees of HBCUs are also more likely to report better experiences with career advising and applied learning than Black attendees of other institutions (see Figure 2). Almost three-quarters of Black HBCU alumni report having “excellent” or “good” experiences with career advising. Eight-in-10 recall good applied learning experiences. The strong experiences Black alumni of HBCUs report in each of these areas underscore the strength of HBCUs in creating educational experiences that have lasting relevance long after college.
While the Urban Institute analysis examined differences found across hundreds of thousands of survey respondents who participated in a nationally representative telephone survey of adults ages 18-24, Strada also has developed and administered a more detailed survey of alumni outcomes. More than 1,100 Black alumni participated in the Strada Outcomes Survey between fall 2019 and spring 2021. They are not a representative sample, drawn in part from a nationally representative sample and from a number of HBCUs that chose to participate in the project by surveying their alumni. With this caveat, we offer an exploratory examination of differences between Black graduates of HBCUs (n=909) compared to those who graduated from other institutions (n=244) as we seek to understand how the experiences of Black students at HBCUs and non-HBCUs differ. Given the small sample size for Black graduates from other institutions and lack of representativeness for the HBCU sample, these findings should be interpreted as an exploratory first step and point to areas that could benefit from further study.
When reflecting on the outcomes of their education, HBCU alumni are more likely to feel their education helped them fulfill goals across many facets of life (see Figure 3). In particular, compared to their Black peers who attended other institutions, they are most likely to feel that their education helped them to “be a good role model” and “become the best person I can be.” But the perceived benefits extend beyond internal fulfillment and encompass employment and earnings. Eighty percent of Black HBCU alumni say their education helped them make more money, compared with 68 percent of Black graduates from non-HBCUs. An even bigger gap occurs in the perception that their education helped graduates “support myself and my family,” with 88 percent of Black HBCU grads agreeing with the statement, compared with 72 percent of Black non-HBCU graduates.
When reflecting on their undergraduate education experiences, Black HBCU alumni more often report their experiences with professors, mentors, and classes were valuable ones (see Figure 4). Eighty-six percent of Black HBCU grads, compared with 67 percent of Black non-HBCU grads, found their experiences with professors to be “extremely” or “very” valuable, while 56 percent of Black HBCU graduates found their mentors to be “extremely” or “very” valuable, compared with 40 percent of Black alumni from non-HBCUs. Though not as large of a difference, HBCU graduates were also more likely to report their classes were valuable.
A notable exception to the post-graduation perceptions of greater value for HBCU alumni is seen in the ratings of research experience where Black alumni of non-HBCU institutions had higher ratings.
Using a 2019 list of the skills most commonly included in job postings across the nation, alumni rated the degree to which their undergraduate experience helped them develop each skill. With the exception of digital literacy and writing, HBCU alumni attributed greater development of their skills to their education than their peers at non-HBCU institutions did (see Figure 5). Of particular note are the strong attributions for the development of leadership, teamwork, and verbal communication.
Additional insights come from analysis of the 2021 National Survey of Student Engagement, where the experiences of over 400 Black students at HBCUs are compared to those of more than 4,000 Black students at non-HBCU institutions.11HBCUs enroll approximately 9% of all Black undergraduates (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=667), reflected in the larger sample size for Black students at non-HBCU institutions.
Just as HBCU alumni report having had stronger career advising, current students at HBCUs are more likely than their peers to engage in career exploration, and benefit from the support their institutions offer with career preparation and job applications. Sixty-one percent of Black HBCU students report having researched their career interests or potential employment opportunities, and to have learned about a career or industry from a practicing professional, compared with about 55 percent of Black students at non-HBCUs (see Figure 6).
Black students at HBCUs are more likely to report participation in a full range of career preparation activities, from alumni networking to getting help with a resume and everything in between (see Figure 7). The career support provided by HBCUs also connects students to the professional world beyond the campus. Black students at HBCUS are more likely to report engaging in activities to build their professional networks. Twenty-one percent of Black HBCU students say they have networked with alumni or professionals, compared with 17 percent of Black non-HBCU students. In addition, 27 percent of Black HBCU students report having participated in interviews or job shadowing, compared with 21 percent of Black students at other institutions. Networking, conducting informational interviews, and shadowing professionals on the job help build students’ social capital, expanding their knowledge of career possibilities and pathways and connecting them with individuals who can make these possibilities a reality.
HBCUs provide engaging, supportive, and career-relevant educational experiences that prepare students for fulfilling lives. This is evident in the perceptions and insights of HBCU graduates, as well as in the data on career outcomes and economic impact. As the findings in this report indicate, these outcomes originate in an undergraduate experience rich with meaningful engagement with faculty and mentors, and the preparation and support needed to create a life of possibility beyond graduation. The satisfaction of HBCU graduates with their education exceeds that of predominantly Black institutions, as well as institutions that are neither HBCUs nor PBIs. While highlighting the relative strengths of HBCUs, these insights also remind all of us of the need to develop widespread practice and policy solutions that support every student and deliver every opportunity for success regardless of the institution they attend. HBCUs lead by example, and their students and alumni highlight their successes.
The Strada Outcomes Survey was administered in March and April 2021. The survey is a national online survey of 3,309 bachelor’s degree completers from fiscal years 2001 to 2020. The data in this report has been weighted to reflect actual dispositions of gender, age at graduation, and fiscal year of graduation for bachelor’s degree recipients between the fiscal years of 2001 and 2020. It may include those who graduated during the calendar year of 2000 but are included in the fiscal year of 2001. Fiscal year 2001 is defined as July 1, 2000, to June 30, 2001.
Data for this report come from the Career and Workforce Preparation module of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which collects information from first-year and senior students about the characteristics and quality of their undergraduate experience. In the full administration of NSSE 2021, approximately 890,000 first-year and senior students from 353 institutions (344 in the U.S., five in Canada, and four in other countries) were invited to participate and, in total, 211,667 students from 342 institutions responded to the survey with equal representation from first-year and senior students. In the U.S., 203,284 students from 337 institutions participated (47 percent first-year students and 53 percent seniors). NSSE’s overall sampling methodology calls for either a census of all first-year and senior students or a random selection of an equal number of students from each group, with sample size based on total undergraduate enrollment.
Participating institutions can then add NSSE Topical Modules, which are additional question sets of interest to institutional partners. The Career and Workforce Preparation Topical Module, designed by NSSE in partnership with Strada, was first administered in spring 2021 to 95 U.S. and Canadian institutions, representing about 27 percent of all institutions that participated in NSSE that year. All data in this report represent analysis of 55,277 participant responses from the 91 U.S. institutions that chose the Career and Workforce Preparation Topical Module. When analyzing data on first-year students or seniors overall, the data are weighted to replicate the original number of respondents for each institution. When analyzing subgroups, such as first-generation seniors, data are unweighted as response rates may differ among subgroups that do not reflect the representation of those subgroups across each institution.
Results for the Strada-Gallup Education Survey are based on telephone surveys conducted from June 2016 through April 2019 with a random sample of more than 340,000 respondents aged 18 to 65, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The sample includes national adults with a minimum quota of 70 percent cellphone respondents and 30 percent landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household based on which member will have the next birthday. Interviews are conducted in English and Spanish. Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability and nonresponse. The data are weighted to match national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, and region. Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent current population survey figures for the population aged 18 to 65.
All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting. At the 95 percent confidence level, the percentage point margin of error for sample size of 94,000 is +/- 0.3, for 85,000 it is +/-0.5, and for 33,000, it is +/-0.6. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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Applied connections between education and work are increasingly a part of undergraduate education in the United States.
Two centuries after the first historically Black colleges and universities were founded, the 101 accredited HBCUs in operation today continue to deliver on their legacy of expanding educational opportunity for Black students that leads to successful and fulfilling lives.
As a field, higher education has experienced a continuing evolution in how to measure success. For nearly five decades success efforts were focused on access, followed by the past decade and a half pursuing completion, and the field now has a growing focus on the value of a degree and student outcomes beyond completion.
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Steep declines in undergraduate enrollment during 2020 and 2021 threaten to widen existing equity gaps in college completion and career opportunities.
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The pandemic has led to a national crisis of widespread disruption to both work and education for millions of adults in the U.S., especially those from historically marginalized groups.
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