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Study: HBCU Graduates Earn Less Than Black Graduates of TWIs

A study by two economists gives more reasons for Blacks to attend traditionally White institutions over historically Black colleges and universities, further fueling the debate about the relevancy of the HBCUs.

The economic gains earned by Blacks who attended a historically Black institution, as opposed to Blacks who attended traditionally White institutions, declined dramatically from the 1970s to the 1990s, according to “The Causes and Consequences of Attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” by Drs. Roland G. Fryer and Michael Greenstone.

Fryer says data he and Greenstone collected seems to lean toward improvements by traditionally White institutions in educating Blacks being a big part of the reason why the decline in wages for HBCU alums exist.

“We tried to explore a lot of ways [this could be possible] in the papers,” says Fryer, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University. “We looked at funding. That’s not it. Then we looked at the types of students. That’s not it. The only thing that seems even plausible is that historically Black institutions have not declined, it’s that traditionally White institutions have enhanced in educating Black students.”

In the 1970s, students attending HBCUs had an 11 percent advantage over their Black counterparts at traditionally White institutions in terms of economic gains. By the 1990s, Blacks at HBCUs were behind 14 percent in terms of salary.

Fryer says he found through his research that, in the 1970s, two-thirds of Blacks attending HBCUs said they would go to the same school again, and the percentage stayed the same in the 1990s. In the 1970s, just 46 percent of Blacks at traditionally White institutions said they would attend their university again. By the 1990s, that number grew to 70 percent.

“The statistics are consistent with HBCUs, they have not gotten worse over time,” Fryer says. “It’s that traditionally White institutions have gotten better in educating Black students.”

One thing the study did note was the fact that Black students at HBCUs become, over time, more likely to be involved in social, political and philanthropic activities.

Outcome aside, some believe the results may have been skewed toward traditionally White institutions. The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education says that while the study focuses on and specifies the 89 HBCUs used, it only says the traditionally White institutions are “comparable.”

“So, it is not clear that the comparisons are legitimate, that ‘apples’ are being compared to ‘apples,’” says NAFEO President Lezli Baskerville. “For example, HBCUs educate a significant proportion of low-income, Pell Grant-eligible students. Did the authors control for similar criteria at TWIs? That would make a difference in outcomes.”

NAFEO officials point out that HBCUs are mostly in the South, and because of inclinations to engage in social, political and philanthropic activities, the students sometimes choose jobs in those fields, many of which are low-paying.

Baskerville says she hopes Fryer and Greenstone will accept an invitation to NAFEO’s annual Peer Seminar in July to help others better understand how they conducted their research.

Fryer said he and Greenstone spent years poring over the information they gathered because they knew their findings would be heavily scrutinized by many with ties to HBCUs or within the higher education realm.

–Marlon A. Walker

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