Wednesday, August 26, 2009

HBCUs vs. FPCUs in the Great Recession

A. Context

This blog continues the discussion begun in a previous blog, "HBCUs in the Great Recession" -- a pessimistic glance at the the negative impact of the Great Recession on the future of the colleges and universities that have provided African Americans with their the most significant opportunities for higher education in times past, i.e., the HBCUs.

The HBCU Community as a National Laboratory for U.S. Higher Education

This blog refines a proposal that was introduced in an earlier blog -- "Why are HBCUs Still Needed? -- Part II"

A. Context

Although continued support for HBCUs is usually justified by references to their historic success in educating African Americans, nowadays eighty percent of African American students attend non-HBCUs. This suggests that their historic justification is a fading argument that may cause us to overlook the potential contributions that HBCUs could make tomorrow, not just to the African American students at HBCUs, but to African American students at non-HBCUs and to all students in the U.S. higher education system -- regardless of their race.

Two of the most important challenges facing HBCUs today also face the non-HBCUs -- fewer male students enroll and they drop out at higher rates than females; and female students enroll in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) at lower rates than males.

  • The "bad news" is that fewer African American males enroll and they also drop out faster than Caucasian and Asian American males; and the proportion of African American females entering STEM programs is lower than for Caucasian and Asian American females. (Note that the performance of African American students is comparable to that of Latino and Native American students.)

    None of this should surprise anyone who is aware of the relative differences in social and economic capital available to most African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and Caucasian students because students who have access to more social and economic resources should be expected to be more successful in coping with the challenges of academic life.
  • The "good news" is that solutions that work for HBCUs may also work for non-HBCUs having substantial African American enrollments, for other minorities at non-HBCUs, and possibly even for the socially and economically more advantaged Asian American and Caucasion students facing similar challenges. In other words, non-HBCUs should pay close attention to the successes and failures of HBCUs because they might learn useful things that could help them provide more productive educational experiences for their own students -- regardless of race.

B. HBCUs as a National Lab

An ideal collection of colleges and universities that would serve as a national laboratory for higher education would be a random sample that controlled for race.
  • Most HBCUs are still predominantly Black, so one can assume that race and prejudice have minimal impact on their operations. (At least 93 of the 104 HBCUs have Black/non-Hispanic enrollments greater than 50 percent; this data is not available for five HBCUs.)
  • Although not a random sample, the community of HBCUs is diverse enough for exploratory studies designed to generate insightful hypotheses about education policies and practices. The findings from these exploratory studies could then be proven or disproven by systematic trials conducted at rigorously sampled colleges and universities elsewhere in the U.S. higher education system.
The extraordinary diversity of the HBCU community bears elaboration:
  • Location -- 22 states, districts, and territories
  • Types -- 88 four year, 13 two year, and 3 specialized graduate training
  • Public/Private 4 year -- 40 public, 48 private
  • Public/Private 2 year -- 11 public, 2 private
  • Enrollments -- smallest = 100 , largest = 9900 students
  • Scope -- wide range of programs ranging from vocational training, associates, and bachelors degrees through professional, masters, and Ph.Ds degrees to multimillion dollar NSF/NIH/NASA funded research initiatives
Related notes:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

HBCUs in the Great Recession

Like many of readers of this blog, I have spent a lot of time trying to gauge the impact of the Great Recession on the HBCU community:
  • Although the well-connected bankers at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase are earning record profits thanks to the generous assistance they received from the Federal government, and although the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board recently conjectured that the economy would begin to recover by the end of this year, some of the nation's more astute economists have issued strong warnings that the unemployment rate will reach at least 10 percent before it declines. They have also reminded us that unemployment is a lagging indicator of economic recovery because businesses will tend to extend the working hours of their remaining employees before they rehire old employees or hire new employees.
  • The unemployment rate for African Americans has usually been at least twice as high as the national rate. If anything, the Great Recession has pushed African American unemployment even higher. And as the "last hired, last-rehired", African Americans will be harder pressed to keep up with their children's college tuition payments.
  • It should also be noted that the recession has drastically reduced the funds available from all sources of financial aid -- except the Federal government.
When the recession suddenly deepened last Fall, these considerations led me to anticipate that HBCUs would be hit harder than non-HBCUs because they enrolled a higher percentage of Black students:
  • Private HBCUs would suffer enrollment declines as Black students dropped out or transferred to public colleges and universities having substantially lower tuition. This loss of tuition revenue would push some (many? most? all?) of them into a financial crisis. And the longer high unemployment lasted within the African American community, the greater the likelihood that some private HBCUs would have to close their doors permanently.
  • Public HBCUs might enjoy enrollment increases because of their lower tuition, but their increased tuition revenue might be offset by substantial reductions in their budgets imposed by the governors of their hard pressed states. Furthermore, the longer high unemployment lasted, the greater the existential threat from increased political pressures to merge some public HBCUs with public non-HBCUs or to shut them down entirely. This would come as part of their governor's efforts to reduce size of their state's higher education systems to levels that could be sustained by reduced tax revenues.
Unfortunately, by the beginning of this year some of my pessimistic predictions had already come true. In February, I posted a page on the Gateway ( containing links to the Web sites of some prominent public and private HBCUs whose senior administrators had courageously acknowledged that they were facing severe financial challenges. And in recent months I have also posted links to announcements from public HBCUs that their Fall 2009 enrollments were at record levels.

Note: this discussion is continued in "HBCUs vs. FPCUs in the Great Recession"