Latino Student Success at HBCUs


Taryn O. Allen

A recent report by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions highlighted the diversification of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country, but particularly in Texas. Home to nine HBCUs, Texas offers a unique context to explore the increasing diversity in HBCUs, as it is at the intersection of a booming Latina/o population and the HBCU network of the South. Texas HBCUs are slowly beginning to reflect the demographic reality of the state.

Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas is an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas is recognized as an HBCU and an HSI. In fact, seven of the top ten HBCUs with the highest percentage of Latina/o students are located in Texas. Latino representation in HBCUs is further demonstrated in the development of campus activities and student organizations established to promote Hispanic culture. For example, Texas HBCUs have hosted film, dance, art, food, and music events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. In addition, Texas HBCUs have chartered Latina/o student associations, professional organizations, and Latina/o Greek Letter Organizations (LGLOs). Recently, Paul Quinn College made school history by crowning a Latina as Miss PQC – a first for its 86-year-old pageant.

To further understand the collegiate experience of Latina/o students enrolled in Texas HBCUs, I conducted two qualitative studies at two four-year HBCUs. The students in these studies shared opportunities and challenges they encountered at their institutions and offered suggestions for long-term strategies to support Latina/o students socially, culturally, and academically.

First, they highlighted the importance of educating students and families on the history and purpose of HBCUs. Some students shared they did not know they were attending a predominantly African American institution until their first day on campus. Early conversations in the recruitment process can inform students of the traditions and legacy of HBCUs and help counter “culture shock,” especially for Latina/o students from culturally homogenous communities. Orientation sessions, small groups, and mentoring programs can introduce buen ejemplos (role models) who can assist Latina/o students as they acclimate to a new college environment.

Second, Latina/o student associations, sororities, and fraternities can enrich the on-campus experience, but they present unique challenges as well. Several participants attempted to establish these organizations, but they became frustrated when the groups did not thrive. They also struggled to identify opportunities to fully participate in campus traditions (e.g., homecoming). These organizations and their budding leaders would benefit from extensive advisor support, leadership trainings, as well as on-campus programming collaborations to develop a sense of familia (family) and promote a strong sense of belonging.

In addition, students in LGLOs sometimes struggled to find their place on campus. Each LGLO has its distinct history, mission, national and regional organizational structure, and new member intake process. Therefore, their support and needs are different from National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities that were founded at HBCUs and traditionally have Black members. Educating advisors and administrators and honoring the distinctions of LGLOs’ processes and procedures can better support the members and help Latina/o-founded sororities and fraternities prosper.

Finally, students expressed interest in increasing the Latina/o presence in classroom materials and discussions. Students greatly appreciated the welcoming and receptive faculty at their HBCU. They felt these close relationships would be strengthened if faculty had greater knowledge on Latina/o history and leaders. Although they enjoyed learning African American history and literature, the curriculum made them curious of Latina/o contributions to society and students yearned for more information on their own heritage. Acknowledging the diversity in the classroom and ensuring curricula reflect the backgrounds of students provide academic and interpersonal validation and foster a sense of comunidad (community).

Latina/o student success is a national imperative and especially critical as this population continues to struggle with degree completion. As the Latina/o population continues to grow, HBCUs, especially those in Texas, can offer a viable educational opportunity. Increased diversification has direct and indirect influences on campus culture, faculty and staff development, teaching and learning, and alumni relations, and HBCUs must be proactive and respond promptly and thoughtfully. Since each campus is unique, faculty and administrators should carefully consider their current policies and practices as their campus diversifies

Dr. Taryn O. Allen is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) and an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Homecoming: The Importance of Paying it Forward


Atiya S. Strothers

If you are a parent who has or has had a child in college, the moment in which they come home is often met with feelings of joy, love, happiness, anticipation, and a grocery list of the student’s favorite foods. Preparation is done at home to make sure their room is how they left it, or in some cases, a tad cleaner. The college student may find new things at home that were not present before and most importantly the people they care for dearly are the ones that make a visit home worthwhile. This same feeling and experience is what happens during this season of homecoming seen at colleges and universities across the country.

Homecomings at HBCUs are rich in tradition and bring thousands of alumni, their families, and friends together. It is a time of reconnecting, reminiscing, and creating new memories. There are many memorable moments at homecoming including the homecoming bazaar, step show, tailgating, and of course the band (who really watches the game?). The experience of an HBCU homecoming undoubtedly holds a special place in the hearts of many alumni.

HBCUs do not have the large endowments of their historically white peer institutions; therefore alumni giving plays a major part in the sustainability of these institutions and traditions. Just as much as the tailgating and band are engrained in the culture of a HBCU homecoming, so should be the idea of making a contribution to your alma mater.

At Morgan State University, President David Wilson implemented ‘The Five Dollar Scholarship Fund’ reflecting his personal story. On the day he went to college, his father was very proud to give him five dollars to send him off. This fund offers the opportunity for many alumni to donate throughout the year and during homecoming season. The ‘Fine Line of 79’ of the Alpha Gamma chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. exemplified this idea as they came together to donate $1,260 towards this fund as they celebrated 35 years on Morgan’s yard. Similarly, Howard University (HU) launched a “Bridging the Gap Student Aid Campaign.” Through various avenues, including social media, the campaign has become known to many. The HU classes of 1971-1983 donated $25,000 to their alma mater towards this campaign during homecoming. These campaigns are in place to help students and are examples that no matter the amount, every dollar counts when you are continuing the mission of providing quality education.

Black alumni are recognizing the importance of giving back to their institutions in order to support the next generation of HBCU scholarship. This is critical for the Black community overall. Blacks have tremendous buying power in the United States — $1 trillion worth. What would happen if we used more of that power and put it into our businesses and our schools?

Investing in our HBCUs is an act of ‘paying it forward.’ As we make our way home and indulge in the nostalgic places, foods, and memories, imagine what momma would think if we not only came home, but we also brought something back to invest in our home. During this season of homecoming, I dare you to ‘pay it forward.’

Atiya S. Strothers is a Ph.D. Student in the Theory, Organization, & Policy (TOP) Program in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.

Hispanic Serving Institutions & Federal Support

POT_luna-duarte, maria-2 copy

Maria E. Luna-Duarte

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) offer opportunities for Hispanic students to enrich their academic experience. A successful program that promotes the continued growth of Latino enrollment in Higher Education is the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program. The USDA partners with colleges and universities across the country with a high percentage of Latino students to provide support to faculty and students via fellowships, scholarships and internship opportunities with the federal government. HSIs are oftentimes underfunded and these programs create an opportunity for funding to allow them to continue to fulfill their missions.

A program that faculty and staff at HSIs can benefit from is the E. Kika de La Garza Fellowship Program. De la Garza was the Democratic representative from Texas that served on Congress for more than 30 years. The fellowship was established in his honor given that during his tenure, he sponsored numerous pieces of legislation related to education and agriculture. This fellowship program allows faculty and staff from HSIs to work in collaboration with the USDA to gain an insider view and understand the work of various areas and programs of the federal government.

During the year of 2012, I had the opportunity to be an E. Kika de La Garza Fellow with the USDA in Washington D.C. Through this fellowship I not only had the opportunity to grow as a professional, but I was also able to learn about the opportunities available for Latino students. Working with faculty and policy makers in the country’s capital gave me a new perspective on how stakeholders address the educational challenges faced by this community.

The fellowship also helped me to understand the role of the federal government in educational matters related to the availability of programs from K-16 and the educational policy making process since the partnership between the USDA and the other areas of the federal government is often interrelated. As a result of the fellowship and with the help of one of the USDA regional directors, I was able to return to the HSI where I work, Northeastern Illinois University, and reach out to community partners to begin programing for children and youth. I organized workshops and events to provide Latino college students information about the various opportunities related to scholarships, internships and employment opportunities available with the federal government.

Another program offered by the USDA is the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program, which “is intended to promote and strengthen the ability of HSIs to carry out higher education programs in the food and agricultural sciences.” The significance of this program is that those grants help attract Latino students to major in the STEM fields and agricultural sciences, assist with their retention by creating opportunities for individualized support, and help them complete a degree in the sciences. The remarkable goal of this program is to help Latino students to become professionals who can one day become part of the agricultural scientific workforce.

Latinos remain underrepresented in the STEM fields. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2014), “less than 2 percent of the STEM workforce is Hispanic while almost 20 percent of the country’s youth population is Hispanic.” It is important to encourage underrepresented students to go into the STEM fields early on in their education career since many of them are not exposed to these types of opportunities in elementary schools or high schools, particularly in urban settings. The Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants award allows for the creation of programs to strengthen the pipeline of Latino students to careers in the sciences since often minority students think that the only alternative to go into the sciences is to become a doctor or nurse, without realizing that there are many more opportunities.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Hispanic-Serving Institutions National Program and the Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program are programs that have proven to make a difference for Hispanic students and those that help them in becoming successful at their respective HSI.

For more information about these programs you can visit:

Maria E. Luna-Duarte is a Ph.D. Student in Policy Studies in Urban Education & Interim Director at Northeastern Illinois University El Centro.

Charting a New Agenda: Being More Intentional about Examining the Experiences of Black Students at HBCUs


Robert T. Palmer

As a graduate of a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) for my PhD in Higher Education Administration and an active researcher on HBCUs, I am happy to see that there is more empirical research on these institutions. Research on HBCUs focuses on a variety of areas, such as faculty governance, desegregation, college presidents, and their success in disproportionally producing minority STEM graduates. With that said, there is still a need for scholars to be more intentional about conducting research on Black students at HBCUs. Unfortunately, most of the research on students at HBCUs compares the experiences of Black students at these institutions with their counterparts at predominantly White institutions (PWIs). While this research helps to demonstrate the relevance of HBCUs by highlighting the supportive campus climate they foster, researchers must be more intentional about providing a contemporary examination of Black students—both male and female—enrolled in these institutions.

Additional research on Black students at HBCUs must go beyond what the literature has consistently found to be true about these students—they are immersed in a supportive climate that helps to facilitate their psychosocial development and maximize their academic success. I am not suggesting researchers stop discussing what many consider to be a unique feature of HBCUs—their supportive, nurturing, and family oriented climates. I think highlighting these aspects periodically is critical; however, if we do not challenge ourselves to focus on other aspects of student experiences at HBCUs, we are limiting our ability to provide HBCUs with best practices to help them increase student retention and persistence. For example, more attention needs to focus on how HBCUs can promote Black male engagement on campus. Moreover, more research should be devoted to studying the experiences of successful students at HBCUs to see what lessons, if any, could be extended to other students on campus to help increase their success. Furthermore, we have to be more intentional of studying the within group differences among Black students at HBCUs. Not all students experience HBCUs in the same way.

One question that certainly warrants greater exploration about students at HBCUs is the challenges they encounter while working toward degree completion. There is ample evidence that indicates HBCUs disproportionately admit students who are low-income, first-generation, and dependent on financial aid. Students who fall into one or more of these categories may face certain challenges, such as balancing the need to work part-time or full-time while attending classes to support their education or lacking access to cultural capital (e.g., knowledge and skills) to help facilitate their collegiate success. While having some understanding of the characteristics of HBCU students as well as some of the challenges these characteristics may engender is critical, it is equally important to be attentive to other challenges HBCU students may experience. Unfortunately, as with the case for research on students at HBCUs, research that delineates challenges to the success of HBCU students is lacking.

HBCUs can play an important role in helping researchers produce contemporary knowledge on Black students on their campuses. One of the ways they can do this is by allowing researchers, who have an IRB, onto their campuses to conduct interviews, focus groups or engage in other data collecting activities with their students. I understand that HBCUs are concerned with allowing “outsiders” on their campuses to collect data because institutional leaders think that they might use the data to paint a negative picture of these institutions. I think this is a valid concern. I am not suggesting that HBCUs open up their campuses to just anyone under the guise of conducting research on their students. I am suggesting, however, that HBCUs be more proactive in working with researchers. The outcome of this will provide HBCU leaders with better insight about some of the contemporary experiences and challenges of Black students and help HBCUs to implement best practices to improve student outcomes.

Dr. Robert T. Palmer is an associate professor of Student Affairs Administration at the State University of New York at Binghamton and an affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Embracing the LGBTQA Community at HBCUs


Larry Walker

Larry Walker

In the past HBCUs have been criticized for failing to support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Ally (LGBTQA) students, faculty and staff. A smaller number of HBCUs have LGBTQA organizations in comparison to Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Currently only 21% of HBCU’s have LGBTQA student organizations on campus (Campus Pride, 2013). The small percentage of organizations may reflect the ongoing struggle within the Black community to embrace people regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity. Despite the struggles, several HBCUs have taken steps to ensure LGBTQA students and faculty members feel safe and welcomed.

In 2012, Bowie State University in Maryland became a trailblazer when they opened their Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI) center. The center was the first of its kind to be unveiled at an HBCU. HBCUs including North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University have also opened student centers designed to support students from the LGBTQA community.

Providing safe spaces for LGBTQA students is important considering that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide in comparison to students of the same age (2014). More specifically, Kirby (2011) found that before the age of eighteen, 36% of African-American lesbians in comparison to 21% of White lesbians attempted suicide.

HBCUs including Florida A & M University (FAMU) have continued to make progress towards creating an inclusive environment by adopting non-discriminatory language that protects students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, HBCU’s have partnered with organizations including the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) a national LGBTQ advocacy group, to provide professional development and leadership opportunities for students, faculty, school administrators and staff.

The HRC’s annual HBCU Leadership and Career Summit provides opportunities for students from HBCUs to come together to discuss a variety of issues. In addition, HBCUs including Morgan State University (MSU) have advisory boards, which sponsor various activities to raise campus awareness. MSU sponsors a symposium that welcomes students, faculty, school administers, researchers and activists throughout the United States. The symposium examines how issues relating to sexual orientation, gender expression and identity intersect with race and religion.

Although HBCUs have taken several steps toward creating inclusive environments, there are three significant areas they should strengthen:

  • Increase the number of LGBTQA Centers: HBCUs should reach out to school administrators at Bowie State, North Carolina Central University and Fayetteville State University to discuss the benefits of opening an LGBTQA center. Students need a safe place to meet and discuss issues within the LGBTQA community. Opening a center will raise the visibility of LGBTQA students on campus and allow invitations to open dialogue.
  • Adopt non-discriminatory language that protects students, faculty and staff regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity: Every HBCU should have very clear policies within their student handbook that protect the rights of every member of the campus community. The policies should be consistent with other colleges and universities that support LGBTQA students.
  • Increase efforts to create a safe and welcoming environment: HBCU administrators should work with residential life, campus police, faculty and staff to ensure students do not have to endure physical or verbal assaults. LGBTQA students, faculty members and staff should feel valued regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity. In addition, ensuring the entire campus community has undergone sensitivity training is critical to creating an inclusive environment.

Collectively, HBCUs can work with students, faculty and staff members to create an inclusive environment that supports individuals regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.

Larry Walker is currently a Research Fellow in the School of Graduate Studies and Doctoral Candidate at Morgan State University in the Urban Educational Leadership program.


Recognizing the Critical Importance of AANAPISIs


By Kiran Ahuja


Higher education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy. In this decade, employment in jobs requiring higher education will grow more rapidly than employment in jobs that do not. Of the 30 fastest growing occupations, more than half require postsecondary education. Moreover, a person with a bachelor’s degree or higher makes $32,744 more annually than a person who does not complete high school. Higher education is now the clearest pathway into the middle class. Recognizing the profound differences a college degree can make, President Obama has set a goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

In order to accomplish the President’s goal, we must focus more attention on the low college attendance rate of underserved students in the U.S. Inaccurately perceived by many to be primarily doctors, engineers, and scientists, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are often absent from conversations about equity in education. However, in reality, many AAPIs face significant barriers within education, including limited English and low educational attainment. One in three AAPIs has limited English proficient and only 14.5 percent of Hmong, 13 percent of Laotian, and 18.1 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a bachelor’s degree or higher. As AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.—expected to more than double in number to 47 million by 2060, we must develop, replicate and scale best practices to better serve this student population.

Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) play a critical role in fulfilling the President’s 2020 goal. By providing culturally relevant student services, curricular and academic program development, and resource and research opportunities, AANAPISIs pilot best practices ripe for replication and scale. Additionally, AANAPISIs serve 40 percent of all AAPI students, including hundreds of high need, low income learners. That is why supporting and promoting AANAPISIs is essential and why the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are taking concrete steps to remove barriers and support these programs and institutions.

In July, the Department of Education and the White House Initiative took a major step in this direction by clarifying that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions, Tribal Colleges or Universities, and other minority serving institutions delineated under Part F of the Higher Education Act. Now, it is the Initiative’s hope that AANAPISIs will avail themselves of federal grants and other opportunities available to postsecondary institutions enrolling significant numbers of undergraduate minority students.

The Department’s website contains information on available grants and directions on how to apply for them. Also, the Initiative has collaborated with to offer free webinar training sessions, geared toward organizations with limited experience applying for government grants. For more information about online and regional training opportunities, please email us at

The Initiative recognizes AANAPISIs as one of the most promising means of supporting minority students, particularly AAPI students. We remain committed to helping AANAPISIs provide curricular development, research capacity and culturally relevant student services for all their students, many of whom are underserved.

Watch and share this animated video about AANAPISIs and post on your college website.


Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

A Penn CMSI Summer Intern Story


Yvette Booker

During a visit to Beloit College in February of this year, Marybeth Gasman met Daniel “Danny” Corral, a junior majoring in history and education. Danny recalls the first time he spoke with Marybeth: “I sat down with my lunch and was all set to just observe the discussion she was leading, but since there were only about 5 other people there, I had to participate in the conversation. She asked me to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ It was such an open-ended question and I wondered, who is this person and how am I supposed to answer?” Danny’s radiant smile and his warm presence as he answered her questions impressed Marybeth. Recalling that first encounter, she says: “I was so impressed by his ability to think on his feet and at that moment I could tell, he genuinely cared about the opportunities he was receiving in college.” After the luncheon, Marybeth learned about Danny’s budding interest in education and heard about his accomplishments on the Beloit campus from his supervisor.

Danny’s interest in education stems from a social studies teacher: “I had a social studies teacher that was really inspiring to me and I thought, I can teach and guide students through the school process as well.” As a McNair Scholar and teaching assistant for Beloit College’s introductory education course, Danny’s future aspirations include pursuing his PhD in education.

After hearing Marybeth’s guest lecture on Minority Serving Institutions and participating in her luncheon discussion, Danny became interested in learning more about MSIs. Marybeth discussed the Center and a possible student internship and Danny admitted he researched Dr. Gasman as soon as he left the luncheon and read more about HBCUs and HSIs. Danny decided then he would find a way to get to Philadelphia!

Danny arrived in June to begin his six-week internship. The work the Center does with HSIs was of major interest to Danny and he was able to work on projects related to Latino teachers, students’ bilingual programs, and authored a forthcoming report on HSIs. Under Marybeth’s mentorship, Danny produced a report focused on programs and services at emerging HSIs (those institutions with 15-24% Hispanic enrollment) and compared them to HSIs (those institutions with Hispanic enrollments well above 25%). In addition, Danny explored the steps and programs emerging HSIs are taking to become prominent HSIs and how they are currently serving the Hispanic populations at their institutions.

All work and no play, no way! In addition to his work at CMSI, Danny had plenty of time to enjoy the relaxed pace of Penn’s summer campus, hang out with new friends and explore Philadelphia. We are very proud of Danny’s accomplishments and we’re thrilled about the future of our summer internship program. Do you know any aspiring MSI researchers? Send them in the direction of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. We look forward to mentoring many more talented students in the upcoming years.

Yvette Booker is a Public Relations and Marketing Specialist at the Center of Minority Serving Institutions.

MSI Degree Completion: Using Data for Fair Comparisons

Toby J. Park & Stella M. Flores

Toby J. Park & Stella M. Flores

Yes—graduation rates at HSIs and HBCUs are, on average, lower than those at traditional institutions, but so is the average level of academic preparation of incoming students. Not to mention the fact that HSIs and HBCUs are often underfunded. Given that the inputs are different, should we be surprised that the outputs are, too?

The reality is that HSIs and HBCUs are often enrolling students who may not have another chance to go to college, and reap its associated benefits. Is it fair, therefore, to compare these students’ likelihood of completing college to those who were able to attend a more selective institution? In a recently released study (Flores & Park, 2014), we use data on high school graduates in Texas to see what happens to the likelihood of completing a college degree at HSIs and HBCUs when we employ more “equalized” comparison groups. That is, comparing students who attend MSIs to their very similar counterparts who attend traditional institutions, based on the data available. The data, while not perfect, represent a great advantage over other data sources used to date in regard to capturing important details about a student’s academic preparation but also where they went to high school and their local community contexts.

In 2002, only 26% of Black students who enrolled in a HBCU had taken an AP or IB course, compared to 45% of Black students who enrolled at a predominately white institution. And, only 54% of Hispanic students who enrolled in an HSI had taken trigonometry, compared to 62% of Hispanic students who enrolled at a traditional institution. Given these disparities in academic preparation, it comes as no surprise that, six years later, the likelihood of college completion at HSIs and HBCUs for these students averaged roughly 11 percentage points lower than traditional institutions.

This isn’t the end of story, however. We undertook an analysis to match Hispanic and Black students to their academic peers who enrolled at traditional institutions as previously noted. Rather, we did a true comparison by looking only at students who had similar levels of academic preparation going into college. In addition, and given that HSIs and HBCUs, are often underfunded, we also took into account the resources HSIs, HBCU, and traditional schools bring to the table. The results are compelling.

We find no difference in the likelihood of completing college for Hispanic and Black students who enroll at HSIs or HBCUs, compared to similar students who enrolled at traditional institution.

This finding is in contrast to what is often portrayed in the media and the opinions of some who point to MSIs as failing to adequately serve their student bodies. The research doesn’t release Minority Serving Institutions or any postsecondary institution from accountability to serve their students, but neither should we make unfair comparisons about graduation rates when the context in which our students are educated from K-12 to higher education can vary drastically by race and class. To that end we challenge any claim that is not fairly constructed.   Our research suggests, at least in Texas, that for some students, attending an HSI or HBCU may help students complete college and achieve economic success via things we cannot measure—e.g., social and cultural capital gained from attending an HSI or an HBCU.

HSIs and HBCUs face harsh criticisms and are often under a constant threat of scarce resources; however, they are producing results. The fact that we find no difference in the outputs after taking into account the inputs makes us wonder whether HSIs and MSIs might do a better job of serving their student sectors. In any case, the demands of the modern economy will continue to require more college graduates and the institutions most likely to produce them are likely to be institutions that serve large numbers of Black and Latino/a students.   Imagine what these institution could do if they were able to receive the funding they so desperately need and deserve.

Toby Park is an assistant professor of economics of education and education policy at Florida State University and affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Stella M. Flores is an associate professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University and affiliate at the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Dr. Flores was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce this study. This work does not necessarily represent the views of the Gates Foundation.  The complete research study was recently released in Research in Higher Education. The link to the article can be found at:

Consider the Source – Part II

Andrew Arroyo

Andrew Arroyo

An open letter to my White college-bound friends:

A few months ago, I wrote an open letter to my college-bound friends of all races/ethnicities about a potential benefit of attending an HBCU: a racially diverse faculty. You can refresh yourself by reading it here.

Now I’d like to keep the conversation going with some thoughts just for my White college-bound friends. Specifically, we will discuss four additional benefits of selecting an HBCU from a “White perspective,” and I will offer three bits of advice.

What’s in it for you: Four benefits

Let’s be honest: For White people who are used to being in the majority, becoming a voluntary “temporary minority” isn’t easy or necessarily appealing. But take it from me—a White male professor with nearly 8 years’ experience at HBCUs—you can get a lot from spending time in an HBCU. Here’s just a taste:

  1. You’ll learn that other groups of people are heterogeneous. Do all White people love country music? Then why do we paint Black people with a simplistic brush? It won’t take long on your HBCU campus to see Black people through a nuanced prism of difference rather than superficial sameness. This is important because no one wants to be prejudged. You’ll carry this benefit with you for the rest of your life too as you interact with people from all sorts of groups—religious, gender, ideological, socio-economic, and racial/ethnic.
  2. You’ll have a chance to wrestle with your White privilege. Don’t worry. No one is going to beat you over the head about it. Through intelligent conversations across campus, you’ll learn about the daily experiences of many Black people in America. Then you’ll be able to draw contrasts with your own. I won’t spill all the beans here, but I can tell you that Black people experience daily challenges you might have a hard time believing. Even going retail shopping for socks or getting behind the wheel of their own car can turn into productions because of racism. No one is taking away from our suffering and struggles, but being White… well, being White does have its advantages, even in 2014. More White people need to get this.
  3. Although you’ll be in the racial minority, you won’t be the only White person. According to a report from Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions, Blacks make up approximately 76% of the HBCU student population, and Whites about 10-13%. Also, that number is going to go up because many HBCUs are actively recruiting White students, just like you. Hey, you won’t be the first, and you definitely won’t be the last!
  4. Empirical evidence from well-designed studies (e.g., Chang, Denson, Saenz, & Misa, 2006) suggests you might see some educational gains from a racially diverse environment. If true, this outcome is a serious bonus. Get any and every competitive edge you can from college to prepare you for life thereafter.

What you need to know: Three bits of advice
If you’re serious about adding an HBCU to your short list of college options, there are some things you need to know.

  1. Just like Black people, HBCUs aren’t homogeneous either! This interview with an outgoing HBCU president helps drive this point home.
  2. Your high school guidance counselor, friends, and family probably won’t know much, if anything, about HBCUs. What they do know might be misinformation (e.g., HBCUs are dangerous or academically inferior). Be ready to explain your choice rationally, respectfully, and passionately.
  3. College is like a smart phone. It’s powerful, but you have to tap into it. Use every feature. You can run for office. You can study abroad. There’s literally nothing you can’t do at an HBCU. I know this firsthand because of my own research where I interviewed non-Black students from three HBCUs. They did it all!

Given the increasing diversification of America, immersing yourself in an HBCU environment could be one of the smartest decisions you ever make.

And the fact is you probably won’t get this diversity at a White-dominated school. Professor Marybeth Gasman and Rob Shorette (a White HBCU graduate) make this point in their article, HBCUs, Places for All to Learn. They note astutely, “a White student at [a White institution] can navigate his/her way through college without having truly interacted with issues of diversity in meaningful ways.”

Are you interested in stretching yourself beyond so many of your White peers? If so, an HBCU could be the place for you. It’s not the only place to explore diversity, but it’s a great option.

Andrew T. Arroyo is assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies at Norfolk State University and an affiliate at Penn’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions

Diversifying our STEM Workforce

Ryan Kelsey

Ryan Kelsey

STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) education is all the rage. The President (in his State of the Union speeches) and the First Lady (most recently at the Working Families Summit) talk about it regularly. Reports on the importance of STEM for our country are published every month by leading think tanks, economists, and other organizations – my favorite from this month is from Jonathan Rothwell at the Brookings Institution, in which he discusses the lengthy vacancies experienced by companies trying to fill STEM jobs, due in part to the difficulty of finding qualified applicants.

One topic missing from the national spotlight is the need to diversify the STEM workforce. In order to meet the needs of our country’s global competitive edge, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reports that the U.S. needs to produce another 1 million** STEM graduates beyond current rates. To make that sizeable increase a reality, we will need a much more diverse set of STEM graduates than we currently produce. Today, less than 10% of STEM professions are filled by non-white Americans. It is worth noting that we would need to triple that percentage to match the demographic makeup of our citizenry, but even to meet the Council’s goal of 1 million will require a huge shift to expand STEM opportunities to more underrepresented students. Minority students present perhaps the largest untapped population of STEM graduates, and drawing on that reserve is a crucial strategy to reaching the United States’ full potential, since minority students on many campuses complete STEM degrees at less than half the rate of their white counterparts.

Why don’t we have more STEM graduates of color? It’s not a lack of interest – research clearly shows that about 1 in 3 students, regardless of race, has an interest in getting a degree in a STEM field, and that has been true for years.

Is it aptitude or preparedness? Hardly. And this is where Minority-Serving Institutions come in. For example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) were developed to nurture Black student success, and they have been particularly effective in STEM fields. According to National Science Foundation statistics, between 2006 and 2010, the list of 20 schools that graduated the majority of Black students in STEM fields included 10 HBCUs. Across sub-fields, HBCUs are equally or significantly stronger in awarding degrees to Black students, especially considering that HBCUs make up less than 3% of U.S. postsecondary institutions. For instance, of the bachelor degrees in mathematics and statistics awarded to Blacks in 2010, 32.5% of them were awarded by HBCUs; in the physical sciences, 36.6%. These figures suggest that STEM-related teaching and academic support practices at HBCUs are more effective than those at other schools for producing Black graduates. And HBCUs do this work much more efficiently than their Predominantly White Institution counterparts – operating with far less resources in today’s current budget climate for education and often with less selective admissions criteria.

These accomplishments need to be celebrated and shared with other types of institutions, particularly those that are experiencing growth in minority enrollment and are struggling to keep those students from diverting out of STEM (see what Penn’s Center is doing along these lines with support from the Helmsley Charitable Trust).

What are some of the chief causes for students leaving STEM?  The number one cited concern is poor teaching quality in the foundational STEM ‘gateway’ (or some might say ‘gatekeeper’) courses.  Beyond that, insufficient wrap-around supports such as advising, course sequencing, and research opportunities hinder students’ ability to see the relevance of material taught in foundational courses to real-world problems and its application in professional science and technology careers.

Many first-generation college students with an interest in STEM have a one-track mind for medical school. If they fall off that track for some reason, they quite often walk away from STEM and, in some cases, drop out of college entirely. This is a missed opportunity for many students and for the country given recent labor market trends, which show whole sectors of middle-skill STEM jobs waiting for students who pursue fields in IT (see Thai-Huy Nguyen’s post about computing), energy, and health technologies, to name a few.

So what can we do about it? The Helmsley Charitable Trust is attempting to build some of this awareness through initiatives such as AAC&U’s TIDES program with Project Kaleidoscope, involving a mix of MSIs and PWIs, which aspires to attract and retain students in Computer Science and IT through professional development for faculty on culturally inclusive teaching practices.

We are also working with large state systems on STEM undergraduate educational reforms, including an active RFP process with the California State University system, which contains 17 MSIs and has one of the largest system-wide enrollments of minority students in the country.

But this is not about any one foundation or campus. There are several foundations and federal agencies interested in supporting the excellent STEM education work of all types of institutions – and we need Minority Serving Institutions to show us all how to help more students of color get STEM credentials. Those students and their families will benefit from better employment opportunities and the United States economy will grow as a result, which improves everyone’s life.

Ryan Kelsey is a Program Officer for the Education Program at the Helmsley Charitable Trust where he primarily focuses on national work in undergraduate STEM education.

**Rothwell would say the number is even higher if you count a broader set of professions as STEM-related, see the Hidden STEM Economy for more.