Are Historically Black Colleges Good for Black Students?

My good friend Roland Fryer has taken as his life’s mission to understand every aspect of the economic life of Blacks in America.

His latest research, co-authored with another good friend, Michael Greenstone, tackles the issues of (a) who attends historically Black colleges, and (b) does it help them or hurt them if they do.

Here are their key conclusions:

1) In the 1970s going to a historically Black institution was associated with higher wages and higher graduation rates than going to a traditionally White institution.

2) By the 1990s, however, the return to graduating from a historically Black institution fell by 20% relative to a traditionally White school, so that in the 1990s there was a premium associated with going to the traditionally White school.

3) The answer to that reversal does not appear to be due to a change in the mix of students attending the two types of schools, or to differences in expenditure per student.

4) Rather, it appears that the traditionally White institutions have evolved to better serve the needs of Black students.

Sounds pretty sensible to me.


prosa

If you use average wages isn't that impacted by the fact that historically black colleges are smaller and thus have more obscure athletic teams? Thus people of better athletic ability will select into the big white colleges and be seen more widely, giving them an advantage in the professional athletics labor market that has nothing to do with the school's pedagogy.

It's not just the athletes that may be affected. Attending a college with a D-1A football team or a good D-1 men's basketball team helps all graduates.

RandyfromCanada

l would think any "black" who graduated from a white old school would do better ..do you not think america still persumes that even old black colleges are not up to white standards ?

2 basketball players being drafted both 6'10 EXACT same stats one is white one is black , black would go 1st becuase Americans have sterotyped blacks and basketball ........

seems simple logic to me nothing outstanding or amazing a grade 10 student could have easily made these assumptions ...

mee23

I've noticed that when people study how women's colleges impact women, they tend to do career-specific research. After all, in an increasing number of fields, wages just aren't an accurate gauge of how successful that individual is.

I know it's heretical for an economist to even think that thought, but it's especially true if you're dealing with a historically subjugated group. In fields like science and technology, studying cite counts and the school where an individual received tenure is a far better indicator of career success than wages for women. Why? Because women Ph.D.s in science and technology would far rather take a pay cut to work in academia, which has far less discrimination and far better work/life balance. Women who can't tenure-track job go into industry R&D -- where wages are higher. Under the rubric your friends depend on, they'd mistake the less successful women for the more successful women, when those in the field know it's the other way around.

Similarly, in law the starting wage among Biglaw firms is the exact same within a market. Although bonuses may vary, they don't necessarily vary according to firm prestige. Consequently, wages and bonuses don't necessarily reflect success. Determining whether someone's more successful than another has to do with whether or not you get on law review, which law review you get on to, the relative prestige of the firm(s) you work for, and/or the relative prestige of your judicial clerkship. Just as with women in science and technology, judging success strictly on wages just doesn't make sense given the field's definition of success.

I wonder if taking a similar career-specific approach may be a far better indicator of HBCU's impact than something as generalized as wages.

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Justin Ross

mee23: "I know it's heretical for an economist to even think that (wages just aren't an accurate gauge of how successful that individual is)"

Incorrect. Economists recognize universally that wages aren't the whole story, it is just usually the only good data available to do any testing with. Success is innately subjective and we wish we had measures of peoples utility, but it just isn't feasible.

bob_calder

OMG this is so racially charged. I would point out that the situation at FAMU may or may not be common in traditionally black universities but they had a high number of people teaching out of field.

I really think what is important here is the accreditation situation in virtually all colleges. This goes hand in hand with discussions about grade inflation. Traditionally black schools may just be visible because they happen to be economically vulnerable today.

bjoerges

"Sounds pretty sensible to me."

At the risk of potentially sounding racist, I think this may be a problem of creating a hypothesis and organizing the data in such a way that renders it true, a common problem of statistics is that the same values stated in different measures can offer wildly different views.

I propose this politically incorrect question:

Is it possible that the traditionally black schools have advanced less in terms of technology, course value, and relevant education as compared to traditionally white schools across the same time frame?

If it is surmised that "traditionally White institutions have evolved to better serve the needs of Black students." then it may be equally surmised that "traditionally Black schools have not evolved at the same rate as traditionally White schools."

Maybe a bit of a Devil's advocate, but something to think about.

RandyfromCanada

heres a question --who and what is the critea of a good or bad school ?
is Harvard automatically better thaN Brown's ? may cost more but is cost judge of quailty ???

synapticmisfires

If you use average wages isn't that impacted by the fact that historically black colleges are smaller and thus have more obscure athletic teams? Thus people of better athletic ability will select into the big white colleges and be seen more widely, giving them an advantage in the professional athletics labor market that has nothing to do with the school's pedagogy.

lermit

Very good question; it should give you a good data set to play with. And where to place and be a bet with your odds.

.lermit

Aristotle

I would be curious to know the income of black students vs. their SAT score. I have seen a study that shows SAT score is a better predictor of a student's future income than the where the student earned the degree.

This is not referenced in your abstract if it indeed was a considered in the conclusions of the study.

Is this data available in Roland Fryer's study? It could provide a better picture of how well black students are actually served by their school. Perhaps the traditionally White colleges are luring more of the top black students.

This could also raise questions as to how a student of any race or gender actually benefits from getting a college education.

Please convey to Dr. Fryer my appreciation for his efforts in this area.

mhsiegel14

One of the biggest indicators of how well a child will do in school is the education level of her mother. It seems to me that an equally reasonable hypothesis would be that the triumph of black colleges in the 1970's has led to the birth of a generation of black pupils whose parents are better-educated and are therefore themselves better educated, better prepared and able to succeed in less supportive mostly-white environments and/or at higher-end schools.

Let me expand on that last bit. The Ivy League and other very prestigious schools have tradionally been lilly-white, even to the point of having quotas on Jews. Does this study correct for how well-regarded or how challenging a school is supposed to be - using average SAT scores or somesuch very rough proxy? That would better isolate the racial effect. Having grown up in Atlanta, I know that the historically black college are very good (and under-rated). But I don't think anyone would argue they are the equal of say, the University of Chicago. ;)

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rubemode

cost is a pseudo judge of quality. In absolute terms I don't think anyone can honestly say which is the better school. But costs do reflect consumer choice and if Brown is able to extract a higher $ value over Harvard, then in the consumer's eyes Brown is a better school than Harvard. Ceteris Paribus.

rubemode

scratch costs, sub "price" into #12

AdamRuby

This reminds me of a debate at Colgate University.

http://www.sa4c.com/documents/Presitgious_Colleges-Ignore.htm

mee23

Justin: Economists recognize universally that wages aren't the whole story, it is just usually the only good data available to do any testing with. Success is innately subjective and we wish we had measures of peoples utility, but it just isn't feasible

But that's the thing: cite counts in science aren't subjective, nor is placement in tenure track positions. The same is true with legal clerkships and flagship law review positions. (Although law firm prestige is somewhat subjective, the surveys demonstrate that the cohorts are remarkably consistent.) They're all highly desired professional rewards that are easy to count.

egretman

I hope Roland Fryer finds the answer to the question soon. So that he can then work on the question of whether all-girl high schools are good.

Then he can work on the question of all-boy high schools that are beginning to pop back up.

Then in 30 years, he can study the question whether high schools should be reintegrated to include all sexes.

Sounds like a long career ahead of him.

furiousball

As a former employee at one large public university and a smaller private liberal arts college, I have seen what goes in behind the scenes of these alumni salary figures and various other statistics. Unfortunately, they tend to be gathered with an intent to attract more students (and dollars). But that said, you'd think the black and white schools would both operate the same way. Perhaps, but do they strive for the same numbers for funding, etc?

jkasbury

" 2 basketball players being drafted both 6'10 EXACT same stats one is white one is black , black would go 1st becuase Americans have sterotyped blacks and basketball …….."

Dude, what are you talking about? The people drafting basketball players are not representative of the American public. They are hard-nosed businessmen who want two things out their valuable draft pick: a quality player who will help their team to win and someone who will help put butts in seats, including in front of the television. Given two players of equal quality, I am quite confident that most GMs would prefer the white player. White NBA players are a scarce commodity and, for better or worse, white fans (who buy most of the stadium tickets and account for most of the market revenue) want to see a few of them in the game.

bmc

NO they are NOT

Luke Hughes

OK, objectively speaking...let's talk "real world."

As a high-level hiring official in a large private sector firm, I can attest to the fact that graduates--both black and white--of HBCUs do just as well in terms of wages earned, performance in assigned tasks, promotions, and upward mobility, as graduates--both black and white--of non-HBCUs. As a matter of fact, it has been my experience that, in general, graduates of HBCUs bring more solidly-developed leadership and "people" skills than black students who matriculated at predominately white institutions, perhaps owing to the fact that the former (HBCU-educated students) were members of the dominant student population and took full advantage of the numerous opportunities to develop the above-mentioned skills. Generally speaking, the HBCU-educated employees are more solidly grounded in relevant life experiences and in the exercise of "common sense" as these relate to job-specific performance. In other words, black employees with the HBCU educational experience generally outperform their black and white counterparts who maticulated at predominately white institutions in these areas as well...regardless of which predominanly-white institution they attended.

One-dimentional employees--those who do not possess sufficient cultural knowledge and awareness or who have difficulty transferring their "book learning" to "in your face," real life situations"--do not do well in my firm and usually wash out by year two.

In my business, it's much more about one's ability to adapt and perform assigned tasks than about where one attended college and how much it cost. While a degree from a so-called "high-powered" college/university may get an applicant an interview, a job offer, and even a job. ultimately it all comes down to real ability and on-the-job performance in the real world.

In response to the topic at hand-- "Are Historically Black Colleges Good for Black Students?-- you betcha! A resounding YES! As stated above, as an employer I have found that graduates who hail from HBCUs--namely top U.S. universities such as Hampton, Howard, Spelman, Fisk, Morehouse, Tuskegee,Winston-Salem State University, etc.--bring something special to the table that black graduates (and a suprisingly fair number of white graduates) of predominantly-white universities seemingly lack and/or have a longer learning curve in grasping and acquiring.

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