Malia Obama has toured Ivy League colleges such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Brown this year. But research findings suggest that the 17-year-old and other African-American youth might be better off at historically Black colleges than traditionally white schools.
A poll of 55,812 college grads who earned degrees between 1940 and 2015 measured how satisfied survey respondents were with areas in their lives such as financial well-being, engagement at work and physical health. The poll, conducted by Gallup through June 29, 2015, found that 55 percent of African-American grads from historically Black colleges or universities (HBCUs) strongly agreed that their higher education adequately prepared them for life. In contrast, only 29 percent of Black graduates from conventional universities said the same. The benefits of HBCUs didn’t stop there. While 40 percent of Black HBCU graduates said they were doing very well financially, just 29 percent of Black graduates from non-HBCUs agreed.
“Ratings by graduates on the experiences they had during college are hugely different for Black grads from HBCUs in a favorable way,” said Gallup Education Executive Director Brandon Busteed. “What really surprised me was how big the differences are.”
The Gallup poll found that the select group of people who reported satisfaction with five key areas of their lives—sense of purpose, social well-being, financial well-being, community well-being and physical well-being—didn’t attend the nation’s most elite schools. Rather, this group of people said they’d benefited immensely from the relationships they formed with professors and mentors and from investing in academic projects and in extracurricular activities.
“More than one in three Black HBCU graduates (35 percent) strongly agree that they had a professor who cared about them as a person, a professor who made them excited about learning and a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams; only 12 percent of Black non-HBCU graduates strongly agree they had all three experiences,” Gallup found.
Additionally, Black HBCU grads are more likely to report experiencing internships, long-term projects and extracurricular activities on campus. Evidently, attending a name brand school like the ones Malia Obama has visited this year, isn’t a guarantee for personal success. But given that her parents are both Ivy League alumni and the teenager has yet to be spotted on an HBCU campus, it’s doubtful she’ll end up at Howard or Spelman. If this poll doesn’t change her mind, it may change the mind of other Black high school seniors who can have their pick of traditionally white colleges and HBCUs, like she can.
But Black universities need more support than ever. Only 1 in 10 Black students ends up at an HBCU, and the schools are increasingly reaching out to students from other racial backgrounds. Thirteen percent of HBCU students are reportedly white, 3 percent Latino and 2 percent Asian or Asian American. Despite this outreach, the number of HBCUS has dwindled in recent years and will likely dwindle more. At present, 101 HBCUs exist. In 2010, there were four more, which have since lost accreditation.
Even the most distinguished HBCUs—Howard, Florida A&M, Howard and Alabama State—face challenges after credit agencies recently downgraded them. With many students from low-income households, more students at HBCUs default on loans than do so at conventional schools. The graduation rate at HBCUs is also lower, likely for the same reasons. Only 37 percent of Black students at HBCUs have graduated after six years, compared to 39 percent at non-HBCUs, according to the Wall Street Journal.
But the non-toxic environment Black colleges offer to students likely compensates for these challenges. Marybeth Gasman, a professor at University of Pennsylvania told the Journal, “There is considerable research that shows that HBCUs provide an empowering environment free of white racism. This is very meaningful in today’s society.”