Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The Best HBCUs in STEM

The National Academies recently published another blue ribbon report that raises alarms about America's imminent decline as a major economic (and political) power due to our declining production of doctorates in science and technology relative to that of other nations. (See Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America's Science and Technology at the Crossroads.)

The good news from an HBCU perspective is the report's explicit acknowledgement that the only way for America to maintain its current eminence is to mobilize the STEM skills of its black and brown minorities. To be specific, the report bluntly acknowledges the significant role that HBCUs can play in increasing the number of African American STEM doctorates. 

Following the precedent of a widely cited NSF report a few years ago (see Baccalauareate Origins of Black Doctorates, Aug 2008), the National Academies developed their own tabulation of the colleges where African Americans who earned STEM doctorates between 2002 and 2006 earned their baccalaureate degrees. The "Top Ten" colleges were all HBCUs; moreover, five of the next fifteen colleges were also HBCUs. (Note: the Academies's Top Ten is consistent with, but not identical to the NSF Top Ten.) That's the good news. Now comes the challenge.

Note: The NSF Baccalaureate Origins study was updated in April 2013

If the production of black pre-doctoral candidates were merely a matter of enrollments, then the HBCU (or non-HBCU) having the largest black undergraduate enrollment would always rank first, the college having the second largest enrollment would always rank second, etc, etc, etc. But this is not the case with the Academies' list, nor was it the case with the previous NSF list.

Indeed, it is more instructive for us to identify the colleges that produced the most future black doctorates per thousand black students enrolled in their colleges. Of course, we must also insist on some kind of "minimum" black enrollment; otherwise a college that only enrolled one black student per class whose graduates always obtained doctorates would be at the top of the list ... but wouldn't make much of a contribution to filling the growing national gap in STEM doctorates. However this isn't a concern in the present case because each of the HBCUs on the Academies' Top Ten list has a sizable black enrollment.

Ideally we would calculate the average undergraduate enrollments in each of the Top Ten schools for 8 to 10 years preceding the 2002 to 2006 observation period. Unfortunately, this data was not available to the author of this note. So he used the Fall 2009 enrollments as a plausible estimate of the average relative sizes of the HBCU enrollments.

The next paragraph displays the Academies' Top Ten list with the ranking, name, and number of doctoral alumni in bold on the left side ... followed by the Fall 2009 undergraduate enrollments ... followed by the number of doctoral alums per 1,000 undergrads on the right side, again in bold.

1. FAMU 51, Undergrad = 10,244 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 4.98
2. Howard 48, Undergrad = 7,176 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 6.69 {6}
3. Hampton 44, Undergrad = 4,565 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 9.64 {4}

4. NCA&T 42, Undergrad = 8,955 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 4.69
5. Spelman 42, Undergrad = 2,229 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 18.84 {1}
6. Morehouse 35, Undergrad = 2,689 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 13.01 {2}

7. Southern A&M 33, Undergrad = 6,484 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 5.09
8. Xavier 32, Undergrad = 4,228 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 7.57 {5}
9. Tuskegee 31, Undergrad = 2,475 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 12.52 {3}

10. Morgan 30, Undergrad = 6,199 ... # per 1,000 undergrads = 4.84   

Before considering these amended results, the author asks the reader to pause for a moment to acknowledge the achievements of every school on this list. Each and all are credits to themselves, to the HBCU community, and to the nation as a whole.
 
Now for the numbers. For readers who did not perform a similar analysis of the earlier NSF list, Spelman's preeminence must come as a shock. It is almost fifty percent more productive than the second ranked college and more than three times as productive as the schools at the bottom of this elite list. ... and, oh yes, it's a "girl's school" ... a "girl's school" that is beating the pants off the other schools in STEM, fields in which women are still not expected to be as successful as men. ... Full disclosure requires that the author acknowledges that he is the proud father of two daughters and the proud grandfather of one granddaughter ... :-)
 
Other observations are not surprising: The top six schools on this Top Ten list are all private colleges, and all six are substantially more productive than the four public HBCUs. Not only is this not surprising, if the results were otherwise, one would have to suspect the validity of the data. None of the public HBCUs is a "flagship" campus in their state systems; hence none are allowed to be anywhere near as "selective" in their admissions as the private HBCUs. Furthermore, the private schools charge tuition and fees that are two to three times as high as the public HBCUs, so parents (and students) should expect, nay demand that they be at least two to three times as productive.

It would be far more instructive (and fairer) to compare the black STEM doctoral productivity of the top public HBCUs with that of the other public colleges in their respective states and to adjust the rankings to take Pell eligibility and students' entering grade point averages and/or SAT scores into account.  The author did not make these calculations because he does not have access to the necessary data at this time.

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Related notes: