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New HBCU Rankings Get Mixed Reviews

U.S. News & World Report has launched a new ranking series, “America’s Best Black Colleges,” which ranks historically Black colleges and universities separately but by using the same methodology as its annual “America’s Best Colleges” rankings.

The inspiration behind the new series, Kenneth Terrell, assistant managing editor for education at U.S. News, says came from readers and an effort to show the relevancy of Black institutions, which don’t normally do well in the annual rankings when compared to the more than 4,000 other colleges and universities.

“We think that it’s very important to show that Black colleges are rewarding institutions, and we want them to be more visible, and for our readers to see the tremendous experience they have to offer to not only Black students but first-generation college students, other students of color and ones that come from low-income and disadvantage communities,” Terrell says.

Only four-year institutions that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as HBCUs and had appeared in the U.S. News’ annual “America’s Best Colleges” rankings were eligible to participate in the new ranking series, Terrell says.

The methodology used in the new HBCU rankings were the standard categories the magazine uses for its annual ranking: peer assessment, graduation and retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving rates.

The only difference is that HBCUs were ranked by their counterparts, not their peers from mainstream institutions.

At the top of the list of America’s best Black colleges is Spelman College in Atlanta; Howard University in Washington, D.C.; Hampton University in Virginia; and Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Some colleges such as Lincoln University in Missouri, Philander Smith College in Arkansas, Texas Southern University and the University of the District of Columbia were unranked because they do not use standardized tests in selecting students, part of the student selectivity category.

Of the 81 HBCUs that were eligible, 11 were unranked.

The series received mixed reviews from the HBCU community and ranking critics.

U.S. News shouldn’t pretend that they are interested in HBCUs because they are not,” says Dr. Walter Kimbrough, president of Philander Smith College. “This is just another means to sell additional magazines. They did not take the time to study HBCUs, to develop the metrics in terms of creating a formula or consult scholars that study HBCUs.”

This past summer Kimbrough teamed up with other college presidents to boycott the U.S. News rankings, saying they were biased against HBCUs because they penalized many of the schools for not being highly selective of students. Critics said the low placement of HBCUs in the rankings discouraged Black students from attending HBCUs.

The boycott was started by the Educational Conservancy, a nonprofit that aims to end commercial interference in college admission.

“The message that [U.S. News] gives is that we see a value in making Black rankings, we can profit from it. It’s about profit, not a service to African-Americans,” Kimbrough adds.

Although the new series is “a novel approach” that could “never be perfect,” Dr. Michael Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund, says the series will nonetheless “increase the awareness of HBCUs.”

“I don’t know if I would call this an accomplishment but it lends a new lens [to HBCUs],” says Lomax. “These rankings are an opportunity for students and their families to gather information about where and what college to attend.”

Fourteen of UNCF’s member colleges appeared in the rankings, including Spelman College.

HBCUs represent 3 percent of the nation’s more than 4,000 colleges and universities.

The “America’s Best Black Colleges” ranking list was released online last week and the magazine, dated Oct. 8, appeared on newsstands earlier this week.

–Margaret Kamara 


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