Many reports have examined in-depth the low graduation rates at a high percentage of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
However, a new 66-page report, Pulling Back the Curtain: Enrollment and Outcomes at Minority-Serving Institutions, the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for Policy Research and Strategy (CPRS) shows that the methodology used by the U.S. Department of Education to compute the graduation rate at HBCUs paints an unfair picture of the performance of these educational institutions in graduating their students.
“As our nation strives to provide equitable access to higher education, and as the American workforce increasingly requires a postsecondary credential, MSIs will continue to play an important role in ensuring the United States’ economic competitiveness,” said Lorelle Espinosa, assistant vice president, CPRS. “We hope that this paper will help education leaders, policymakers and policy influencers to understand the critical importance of MSIs.”
The analysis presented in the report utilizes data from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) — the
largest and most comprehensive source of postsecondary enrollment nationwide—to examine how students who started college in 2007 at an MSI move through higher education.
“As the NSC data show, the majority of students at MSIs do not attend college exclusively full time, which is significant since higher education policy is still largely rooted in the notion of a “traditional” student body that among other attributes attends college full time,” the report says. “Students at MSIs, especially public institutions, enroll primarily through mixed enrollment, meaning they move between attending college both full time and part time, and not solely through one or the other. In addition to capturing more students, NSC data follow students throughout their educational journeys, including when they change institutions.”
For these reasons, the report adds, “we find that completion rates for MSIs are higher than the federal graduation rate suggests, and in some cases substantially so.”
Minority serving institutions (MSIs) play a critical role in American society and provide access to post-secondary education for millions of students of color who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. As communities in the United States become more diverse and the number of MSIs increase, the new report says that it is imperative that the higher education field understands how MSIs serve the students they enroll.
The official federal graduation for all state-operated HBCUs is 34 percent, meaning that just over a third of all entering students at HBCUs earn their degree from the same institution within six years. But the new report notes that using data from the National Student Clearinghouse, the actual graduation rate for students at public HBCUs is 43 percent. Furthermore, if we look only at full-time students, the graduation rate rises to 62 percent.
When measured using NSC data, MSIs do in many cases substantially better at completing students than is depicted by the standard federal graduation rate. At private HBCUs, the federal graduation rate is 43.9 percent. But the National Student Clearinghouse data for full-time students shows a graduation rate of 66.7 percent at these institutions. At predominantly Black institutions that are not classified as HBCUs, the federal graduation rate is 16.6 percent. But the National Student Clearinghouse data suggests a 52 percent completion rate for full-time students at these institutions.
“These differences speak to the ongoing need not only to improve data on student outcomes, but also to inform policymakers and other decision makers about the assumptions made in generating institutional data for accountability purposes,” the report concludes. “As the essays included in this report show, hard data is just one part of a given institution’s story about how it educates students, and in the case of many MSIs, how they provide academic and non academic opportunities for students historically shut out of higher education.”