College Scorecard Needs Improvement in Promoting HBCUs

Part 2 of a 4 Part Blog Series

In contrast to the college guidebooks addressed in the first blog in this series, the federal government’s recently revised College Scorecard* is designed to provide key, unbiased data to inform prospective college students about colleges and how to evaluate them based on a myriad of measures. This data is certainly valuable. Its interest, though, is likely better suited for researchers whereas it has the potential to mislead college hopefuls. Perhaps not surprising, the Scorecard and its torrent of data do not, in the views of many, live up to its promise generally nor with respect to HBCUs in particular.

The Scorecard has been the subject of considerable and extensive criticism. For example, some have criticized its heightened focus on salaries post degree receipt. Others have questioned the datasets used to create the Scorecard, noting that key information is missing or was not collected. The absence of data on race and ethnicity has been noted as well. These are all valid criticisms. But what is particularly problematic for us is the Scorecard’s overemphasis on financial costs, post-graduation earnings, and graduation rates without regard to other metrics that are insufficiently measured by data, such as unique academic programs or campus initiatives. These factors all lead the Scorecard to indirectly discount or omit HBCUs.

Here’s how it works:

When students or other users first see the Scorecard’s homepage, they are greeted with messages that claim: “On average, college graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates” and “You could be eligible for up to $5,775 for free in Pell grants to help pay for college. No repayment needed!” Then, as if that focus were not clear enough, the site highlights specific institutions with high graduation rates and low costs.

Is that how we are meant to measure college fit? If so, it’s a big problem: we know that certain types of professions have lower income levels on average, and we also know that even controlling for other key variables, being a minority and first-generation student affects earnings, in part due to the difficulty of landing a first job without connections.

Given that the Scorecard’s privileged metrics rely on reductive data, there is not a single HBCU on any of the four lists on the College Scorecard homepage. Even assuming the accuracy of those lists with regard to data, it is alarming that

Consider this example used by the Scorecard on its homepage. On the list of two- year colleges with high salaries post-graduation, SUNY Westchester Community College in Valhalla NY is listed (and thus touted). The average earnings figure of its graduates is, to be sure, high: $37,400. But, consider the average graduation rate (ignoring for a moment how that is calculated): 13%. Yes—only 13% according to the Scorecard and yet the earnings data are so important that this institution is featured prominently on the Scorecard’s homepage. Several of the other lists are composed primarily of elite, highly selective colleges.

Beyond the issue of what the Scorecard chooses to prioritize, we are even more concerned about. It would not have been all that difficult to create an added dropdown window that referenced special features of a particular institution. For starters, one could reference key clubs and organizations (whether there was Greek life), internships and work study opportunities, advising services, and notable facilities like state-of the art computer labs, mock stock trading floors, or simulation laboratories. For example, Xavier University of Louisiana offers the Institute for Black Catholic Studies; this information would be extremely useful to prospective students passionate about Black Catholic studies but struggling to find a program. By knowing a school’s unique features, students would be better able to discover schools of interest to them.

Perhaps the most flagrant foul with respect to the Scorecard, however, rests with the difficulty of using its “Advanced Search” option to filter and search for schools. Unless one knew the name of a particular HBCU, for example, it would take three different steps to get a list of HBCUs, including knowing to go to “Advanced Search.” We know that low-income, first generation students are unfamiliar with the college options available to them. These students are less likely to know how or where to start looking for options beyond those that are automatically featured on the site. Instead of having options buried or accessible only by muddling through filters, our goal should be to more visibly promote institutions that would be a good fit for students.

As noted in the first blog and as evidenced here, improvement in enrollment at HBCUs requires some changes to information garnered and then released to the public. The College Scorecard could, but does not, inform decision-making sufficiently for the very students who would benefit from this information. In the next blog, we look at a different way of how information is distributed: from school counselors to students. This “internal focus” creates an opportunity for more personalized counseling.

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.

Helping HBCUs Get the Attention and Attendance They Deserve

Part 1 of a 4 Part Blog Series

The facts are indisputable: enrollment is an important matter for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as these institutions must compete with Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) and other institutions for students.* As such, HBCUs need to make their values, strengths, and rich history both visible and compelling to prospective students, particularly new high school graduates. This blog post is the first in a four-part series that focuses on strategies to improve enrollment at HBCUs.

While there are many issues confronting institutions of higher education, enrollment is key to a college or university’s success because, absent a massive endowment, having fewer students creates greater fiscal constraints for an institution. Short term, this can mean cuts in personnel, lack of programmatic resources, absence of resources to innovate, receipt of funds from dubitable arrangements like guarantee games, and general diminution of a sense of well-being. Declining enrollments can also limit access to capital near and far term. This can lead to a lessening of improvements such as deferred maintenance and weak technology infrastructure for both classroom use and institutional operations.

There is no simple answer for increasing enrollment. Surely, there are “mega” solutions that call for massive infusions of cash, whether from private sources or the government. Grants from foundations are options and so are active supports at the local, state, and national levels. It is our view, however, that these approaches—while worthy—will take time and may not occur quickly enough to showcase the value of HBCUs and get them the resources they need before some fail and others flounder miserably.

The suggestions in this blog series benefit from being relative low cost and achievable over a short timeframe. But, the proposed strategies need HBCUs to work together as a collective to advocate for improved treatment and championing of these suggestions to raise the profile of their institutions. HBCUs need to own these initiatives. They need to put pressure on the relevant outsiders.

Beyond growing enrollment, there is a larger purpose with respect to all of our suggestions: the importance of fit. Many, although assuredly not all, HBCUs serve first-generation, low-income, and minority students well. While their retention and graduation rates may lag behind other institutions, HBCUs have a long and often storied history of serving vulnerable populations and enabling a good fit for a student. They can offer a supportive learning environment where students do not feel like a fish out of water and where academic success is both expected and rewarded.

That said, even finding a well-fitted college turns out to be far from easy for many students, who turn to resources like college guidebooks to guide their decisions—and this is the first area that can be changed to improve enrollment at HBCUs.

Pesky College Guidebooks

College guidebooks, available in high schools, libraries, and for individual purchase, aim to provide prospective college students with an array of accurate information about institutions they may be interested in attending. Two of the most ubiquitous guides are The Princeton Review and Fiske Guide to Colleges. To be sure, no guidebook—regardless of its quality—is sufficient to enable a student to make an informed decision where he or she will succeed academically or personally. However, these guides remain a commonly used resource.

Still, the two guides are riddled with flaws as they relate to HBCUs. Here are four of the most notable issues that can have an impact on their readers’ decision-making: (1) unexplained differences in lengths of entries that silently signal which institutions have more to offer than others; (2) absence of storytelling with respect to key positive aspects of a particular college, suggesting by negative implication that it is lacking in “merit” or “acclaim”; (3) lack of labeling institutions in ways that would identify listed colleges as HBCUs with pride; and (4) lack of clarity as to how the “best” colleges are identified, leaving little recourse for the startling absence of many HBCUs on the lists.

Consider these concrete examples:

In a recent edition of The Princeton Review, the length of entries for Xavier University (Louisiana; HBCU), Brown University (Providence; PWI), and Howard University (Washington, DC; HBCU) are varied without explanation, and in a guidebook, length of entry can be a surrogate for quality. The Brown University entry had almost two complete columns, which also appears to be the longest entry in the book. However, while Howard University had the same number of subsections Brown in terms of content categories, its entry was barely one column. Xavier was barely one column too. It is true that if every entry were as long as Brown’s, the length of the guide would be unmanageable. To be fair to all institutions, however, there needs to be greater standardization in entry length, shortening entries like Brown’s that are given too much length and lengthening entries for places like HBCUs that have been historically glossed over.

The recent edition of Fiske Guide to Colleges identified only 4 HBCUs out of the 300 plus colleges described, leading one to assume other HBCUs are not even worthy of mention. Similarly, length of entry is used to signal quality. In this guide, Howard and Xavier, both HBCUs, each have 2 pages versus the length of profiles for some Ivy League schools (Harvard has 4 pages and Brown has 3.5 pages).

The absence of the use of the category “HBCU” has implications as well. In The Princeton Review, the only indication that institutions have a large minority population was the identification of percentages. Moreover, The Fiske Guide to Colleges used euphemisms like “the Wellesley of the black world” with respect to Spelman, for example, instead of the more accurate—and federally recognized—language of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

There needs to be real pressure put on these two college guides and others to treat HBCUs more equitably and in ways that showcase their value on a myriad of levels. This begins by recognizing the guides’ existing deficiencies, something that has not been done before to our knowledge.

Guidebooks are but one avenue students can pursue to identify colleges they may be interested in attending and where they can achieve success. As reflected here, The Princeton Review and Fiske Guide to Colleges fall short in their treatment of HBCUs. Unfortunately, these are not the only enrollment hurdles challenging students interested in HBCUs. The next blog in this series focuses on the deep flaws of the College Scorecard recently developed by the Department of Education, particularly in its treatment of HBCUs—stay tuned!

* There is evidence that enrollment is rising at HBCUs for reasons yet to be fully understood.  That rise notwithstanding, this blog series speaks to the enrollment needs/concerns of many of the HBCUs in our nation.

Tyler Carrillo- Waggoner is a sophomore at Bennington College. She is an abstract artist that works with markers/colored pencils/pencils.

Karen Gross serves as Senior Counsel at Widmeyer Communications and is the Former President of Southern Vermont College. Karen also serves as an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.

Pierce Huff recently graduated from Bennington College.

Aria Killough-Miller is one of four students from Bennington College’s spring 2016 course Understanding HBCU’s. A junior at the time of the time of this article, she is studying different means of conveying information, particularly Spanish, writing, and music. She is interested in social justice and hopes that this article contributes to making the world a little bit better.

Jessica Zeng is an undergraduate in Bennington College. There, she’s interested in studying how social action can be made through literature and art. Back at home in Brooklyn, New York, she has an adorable cat called Bokchoy.

 

American Baptist College Joins Other HBCUs Experiencing Discrimination from Anti-LGBTQ Groups

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Robert K. Hoggard

In a National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. (NBC) meeting over the past summer, the convention talked about its ten new appointees to the American Baptist College board of trustees, citing a charter document which dates back to the founding of “American Baptist Theological Seminary”—now known as American Baptist College. During the convention, NBC developed plans to appoint members to the college’s board of trustees for suspect political and religious reasons—specifically its anti-LGBTQ agenda—even though it does not support the college financially.

It is important to note that American Baptist College already has a working board that oversees a thriving liberal arts college that has seen much growth under the direction of Forrest E. Harris Sr., who is also an associate professor and Director of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on the African-American Church at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

It is also important to note that, until now, NBC has not had an issue with the trajectory of the college under the leadership of former president Rev. Julius Scruggs. In fact, Scruggs, who is an alum of American Baptist College, is also a major donor to the college.

However, NBC has experienced a tumultuous leadership change into hands that I describe as homophobic, sexist, and anti-community uplift. NBC’s new president, Rev. Jerry Young, has led a crusade against American Baptist College in the midst of one of its most healthiest times. He has led a crusade against the college for one reason: Rev. Randy Vaughn.

Rev. Randy Vaughn, a failed former presidential candidate of NBC, led a hate group of pastors called the “National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors” against President Harris because he invited Bishop Yvette Flunder, a woman who happens to be a lesbian, to be a guest speaker at the college. They said in a March 5th press release: “For a Baptist college president to invite a lesbian bishop legally married to a woman to be a guest speaker and worship leader on a Baptist college campus is irresponsible, scandalous, non-biblical and certainly displeasing to God.”

I have questions about their theology, which I unpack in my article at HBCU Buzz: “An Open Letter to Rev. Randy Vaughn About American Baptist College.” But more importantly, I am concerned that the pastors asked the president of a college which receives Title IX funding to discriminate against LGBTQ persons.

The new chapter of this fight against American Baptist College is that NBC will attempt to appoint new board members with the vision of changing the school to a discriminatory school against LGBTQ persons. Because of such, we need to call on the U.S. Department of Education to get involved in NBC’s chapter of war against a thriving HBCU.

NBC is a religious organization that has said nothing in a period of social unrest in support of discriminated individuals or groups. For example, They have not spoke with righteous indignation against police violence in a #BlackLivesMatter era.

According to Jennifer G. Hickey’s article, “Race Gap: Blacks Fall Further Behind Under Obama,” since Obama has been president, the African-American median income has fallen by 10.9 percent to $33,500, compared to only a 3.6 percent drop to $58,000 for Whites. NBC has said nothing about this disparity nor have they considered supporting the nationwide fast-food workers movement called “The Fight for $15.”

Lastly, NBC has never had a woman president. This speaks to why they have never spoken about women’s right issues like eliminating the wage gap between men and women.

NBC has a history of being absent on issues that African-American people are facing across the country. This is why seminary enrollment across the country is down and why many people are leaving African-American churches. In the case of American Baptist College, we are seeing another board governance issue because of anti-LGBTQ pastors.

Our HBCUs deserve better than this. They deserve alumni, friends, and partners giving money so that HBCUs are healthy. They do not deserve to be discriminated against by religious organizations that do not have the best interests of them or their students in mind.

Robert K. Hoggard, M.A. is a graduate of American Baptist College and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He has written more than 100 articles on HBCUs at HBCU Buzz Inc. and is closely watching the life of HBCUs in a period of social unrest and injustice against African-American people.