HBCUs First: A Call to Action for College-Bound Black Youth


Courtney Gray, HBCU First

As we enter a new decade, America’s future will continue to be driven by young people and inevitably, led by them. So who will do the leading — and more importantly, where will they take us? Black youth are uniquely positioned to lead us to a more perfect union defined by equity, opportunity, and inclusion.

The Opportunity

Black Americans, our economy’s most underrepresented racial group and second largest minority group, have the most to gain and consequently the most to add to our nation’s prosperity. While less than half of White Americans see college as very important, nearly two-thirds of Black Americans do. Black Americans are more ready than ever to take advantage of post-civil rights era opportunities and are in pursuit of the best vehicles to do so.

How is the Call Answered

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are positioned to provide Black youth the tools they need to further our nation’s prosperity and should be the first choice of college-bound Black Americans. HBCUs consistently outperform Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) in student experience, affordability, and after college preparedness for Black students. The 180+ years of success by HBCUs is driven by a promise of support to all students — regardless of socioeconomic status or ethnicity. School staff (operational support, professors, and senior leadership) and the students share in this explicit pact of support. The secret sauce of HBCUs has three key ingredients: real-time experience, exceptional value, and career & life focus.

Better Experiences.

By design, HBCUs offer a safe and nurturing environment for everyone — Black, White, Asian, Latino — the wealthy, the less advantaged — and all in between. Although HBCUs were originally founded to educate Black students, today non-Black students make up 24% of enrollment at HBCUs. HBCUs provide students something they can’t get anywhere else — a diverse & inclusive community of scholarship that celebrates the richness of the entire American experience.

According to a recent Gallup study, only half of Americans see college as very important. So now, more than ever, real-time student experience at colleges and universities matters.

Better Value.

HBCUs offer students better financial value than non-HBCUs. According to the 2019 UNCF Fact Sheet, Black colleges cost 27% less than comparable non-HBCUs.

In an environment where the cost of college is increasing almost eight times faster than wages, Black colleges offer students the potential to pay less in tuition and carry less debt.

Better Career & Life.

Studies show Black HBCU graduates are better prepared for life beyond college and more engaged at work than non-HBCU graduates. Black colleges and universities continue to outperform non-HBCUs in graduating successful Black professionals in a number of fields including science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. HBCUs only enroll 3% of Black American college students, yet they produce almost 1 in 6 of all Black American bachelor’s degrees.

Most importantly, according to a survey of nearly 60,000 college graduates, Black HBCU graduates are more likely to thrive in purpose and financial well-being than non-HBCU graduates.

What’s at Stake

America’s position as leader of the free world is at stake due in large part to the stagnation of our nation’s educational system. Our task is to do more in education as our financial resources are stretched across a growing number of global issues. HBCUs have answered the call of producing more with less as demonstrated by their student’s upward (economic) mobility rate of 53% compared to that of just 35% at PWIs.

Bottom Line

The evidence is clear, HBCUs provide a better experience for Black students — socially and academically. Black youth have a perfect vehicle in HBCUs to excel professionally and further our nation’s prosperity through equity, opportunity, and inclusion.

Courtney Gray is founder of HBCU First, a college & career readiness nonprofit leveraging the inherent opportunities and challenges of Black youth. Additionally, Courtney is a graduate of Florida A&M University and founder of Cerar & Malcolm, a brand development agency based in New York.

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