Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Invisible is the new black

Last update: Tuesday 3/27/18
This morning's online edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education contained an article titled, "They Wanted Desegregation. They Settled for Money, and It’s About to Run Out." I suggest that this excellent article is a "must-read" for anyone concerned about the condition of Black students in U.S. higher education. I mean the 300,000 Black students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) ... AND ... the invisible 2.7 million Black students who attend non-HBCUs.

The article discusses the tortuous thirty year legal challenge to the substantial underfunding of the three public HBCUs in Mississippi. How underfunded were these HBCUs? Underfunded enough for the plaintiffs to eventually win a $500 million settlement. The money was paid out over a 17 year time frame and will run out in 2022. Unfortunately the HBCUs really needed a settlement that was three to four times as large to level the playing field. 

It is a sad but undeniable fact that all HBCUs, public and private, are substantially underfunded when compared to non-HBCUs, a/k/a PWIs ("Predominantly White Institutions). HBCUs enroll approximately 300,000 Black students, i.e., about 10 percent of America's 3 million Black college students. Nevertheless, as the article notes, HBCUs produce about 24 percent of the nation's Black graduates in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). How is this possible??? Consider what these percentages really mean:
  • If 1000 Black students were starting college today, only 100 would attend an HBCU; the other 900 would enroll in non-HBCUs, i.e., 9 times as many.
  • Some years later we would find that 24 Black graduates in STEM fields came from HBCUs, and 76 came from the non-HBCUs. In other words, the HBCUs produced 24 percent of the nation's 100 Black grads in STEM. Given 76 Black grads from the non-HBCUs, we should only have expected 1/9th as many, i.e., 8 STEM grads from the HBCUs (rounding 76/9 = 8.4 down to 8).
  • So the grossly underfunded HBCUs would graduate three times as many Black STEM grads as we should have expected, 24 vs. 8. Hooray for the HBCUs!!! Let's celebrate omnibus budgets that provide more funds for HBCUs!!!!!
That's the way these percentages are usually explained by HBCU advocates. Unfortunately, Black students at non-HBCUs have no advocates. For the purposes of this discussion, please allow me to play this role. Now let's take another look at the percentages.
  • If 24 Black students graduated in STEM fields from the grossly underfunded HBCUs, we should have expected at least 9 * 24 = 216 Black alums, i.e., nine times as many graduates from the non-HBCUs.
  • Instead, the non-HBCUs only produced 76 Black STEM grads, i.e., about one third of what we would have expected. This loss of 216 - 74 = 142 STEM grads is six times as large as the 24 grads that HBCUs currently produce.
  • Given how much better funded the non-HBCUs are than the HBCUs, the underperformance of non-HBCUs in educating their Black students is a shocking national scandal. America needs to determine why non-HBCUs are serving their Black students so poorly and institute corrective measures immediately ...
... but America won't do that. Whereas America underfunds its Black students who attend HBCUs, it disregards the vast majority of its Black students who attend non-HBCUs precisely because they attend non-HBCUs and therefore have no advocates. They are just blips on a Matrix screen, incorporeal stats about Black-White achievement gaps ... But as has been truly said, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" ... even if it attends a non-HBCU ... :-(

Roy L Beasley, PhD
DLL Editor

P.S. Not all non-HBCUs have underserved their Black students with regards to providing access to STEM careers. One measure of a college's contribution to STEM is the percentage of its bachelors degree graduates who subsequently obtain doctorates in STEM. In 2013, NSF posted a study on its Website that answered the question:  For every 100 students who graduated from a college between 2002 and 2011, how many subsequently earned doctorates in science or engineering? 

As the reader will see seen from Table 8 in the NSF study, only four HBCUs made it into the top 25 -- Spelman (8th place = 4.2 doctorates per 100), Tougaloo (16th place = 3.2 doctorates per 100), Xavier U. LA (18th place = 3.0 doctorates per 100), and Fisk (23rd place = 2.4 doctorates per 100). 

The other 21 of the top 25 most productive colleges and universities were non-HBCUs, including seven members of the Ivy League, Georgia Tech, M.I.T., Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and other wealthy institutions. Of course one has to wonder if Spelman, Tougaloo, Xavier, and Fisk had had the financial resources of their peers in this upper echelon of doctoral productivity, how many more future Black doctorates in science and engineering they would have graduated ... :-)

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