- A new report from the American Council on Education said institutions historically servicing blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans and Native American Pacific Islanders propel students up the economic ladder at significantly higher rates than predominantly white institutions. Four-year Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), the report said, propel students from the bottom income quintile to the top at a rate three times higher than non-minority serving institutions. Meanwhile, four-year historically black, predominately black and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions propelled students from the bottom to the top quintiles at double the rate of non-minority serving institutions.
- Hispanic-serving and historically or predominantly black institutions disproportionately serve students who are low income and first generation, according to the report's findings — one in five students at HSIs and one in four students at HBCUs and PBIs were from families in the lowest income quintile, compared with roughly 8% of low-income students enrolled at non-minority serving institutions. Between 45% and 53% of students at these institutions also are first-generation college students.
- The report also pointed out that the institutions, by federal designation, are low-expenditure institutions, which the authors argue makes their accomplishments with students, who other institutions complain that there is a financial disincentive to serve, more worthwhile. "One sees a strong case here for increased investment in institutions that are meeting students where they are," the authors wrote.
In terms of return on investment, it is hard to dispute the value of minority-serving institutions in helping the greatest number of disadvantaged and underrepresented students with the fewest resources. Even as HBCUs from Mississippi to Maryland to Pennsylvania have pushed forward with litigation against their respective states over historically disparate funding and a lack of state support in dollars and programs authorized, these institutions have continued to graduate a larger percentage of low-income, first-generation students than their better-resourced predominantly white counterparts.
And, in West Virginia, a recent analysis by state legislators proposing to fund the public institutions based on how many local students they serve, it was discovered that West Virginia State University, an HBCU, has the highest in-state enrollment of any of West Virginia's public universities, with 91% of its students coming from the state.
However, most of the metrics around higher education focus on graduation rates, and despite the fact that non-minority serving institutions enroll very few students who may face other barriers to graduation (and many of these institutions have more resources to help), much of the public discourse about these institutions has been around seemingly lower outcomes. Slowly, this is changing.
In a recent telephone conversation, Council for Higher Education Accreditation President Judith Eaton said "Folks in the [U.S. Department of Education] and Congress realize that we need to differentiate by type" of institution when discussing higher education outcomes. "When we’re making judgments at the institutional level, we have to have information about the student population," she said. "It’s obvious to all of us that you don’t expect the same thing from a community college that you expect from a selective, research institution."
Furthermore, graduation rates paint an incomplete picture of student success, she said. "It’s not just did students graduate; it’s did students achieve their goals?," Eaton said. For many students, she added, especially those who are from low-income families, moving out of poverty is the goal, and institutions that promote greater economic mobility are succeeding by helping them to achieve that.