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Study: College Affordability Metrics Don’t Match HBCUs’ Mission

The current metric used by the Obama administration to measure college affordability does not rely on the critical role that historically Black colleges and universities play in educating traditionally underrepresented students, according to a new report released by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

The 19-page study “Ranking and Rewarding Access: An Alternative College Scorecard” chastises the White House for its online College Scorecard and proposed college rating system, pointing out that HBCUs and other minority serving institutions with large numbers of underrepresented, first-generation, and/or low-income students will likely be disadvantaged.

“While President Obama’s plan is well intentioned, facets of it offer 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems,” says Dr. Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at Penn and director of the school’s center. “Today’s college-going population is far more diverse than in the past. We need evaluation mechanisms that embrace that diversity and that recognize the unique needs of low-income, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students. America’s future prosperity depends on these students’ success.”

Gasman, who was a member of the research team that contributed to the report, says that the White House Plan, which calls for transparent and easily comparable metrics such as college costs, graduation rates, loan default rates and median borrowing rates, “inadvertently punishes institutions that serve students who often need the most support by oversimplifying the measures.”

The report faulted the Obama administration for not taking into account the large number of part-time students enrolled at HBCUs.

“An objective, impartial tool for comparison during the college search for prospective students is important,” says Heather Collins, co-author of the report and assistant director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions. “Adapting metrics to individual students is a more appropriate method of comparison than using average rates for an entire institution.”

Collins and co-authors Shawn M. Jenkins and Nika Strzelecka suggest that the administration:

  • Align metrics with student priorities: “The metrics used by the College Scorecard do not necessarily align with the factors cited by HBCU freshmen as among the most important. For example, while the College Scorecard emphasizes graduation rates, HBCU students report that financial assistance, the cost of attending college, and getting good jobs are more important factors influencing college choice,” according to the report.
  • Create customizable features: â€śCollege isn’t one size fits all—different institutions are better equipped to serve different students’ needs. Evaluation mechanisms should reflect this diversity by producing personalized information based on specific student characteristics. For example, personalized graduation rates for low-income students and Black men may indicate that HBCUs are a better value than other institutions that lack established, well-integrated support systems for these students,” according to the report.
  • Develop a rating system that considers preparation: â€śCustomized metrics can be used to reward institutions that graduate underrepresented students. By offering larger amounts of performance-based funding to institutions that enroll and graduate large populations of traditionally underserved students, institutions will be incentivized to focus on developing support services to enroll, retain, and graduate these students. This strategy avoids penalizing HBCUs and other institutions that educate these students.”

Jamal Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on twitter @jamalericwatson

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