Federal Government, HBCUs Fall Short In Producing Metrics of Institutional Success

A new study from the American Council on Education reveals that graduation statistics on historically black colleges and universities may be grossly underreported, based upon current eligibility formulas for student classification.

According to the report, which used data from the National Student Clearinghouse instead of US Department of Education’s databases, students who enrolled as part or full-time students in HBCUs in Fall 2007 posted a 43 percent total completion rate at public institutions, and a 62 percent rate for students who enrolled exclusively full time.

For private HBCUs, the reports shows a 66 percent graduation rate for students in the same cohort, compared to a federal reporting of 44 percent.

Federal graduation rates do not count students in a cohort who did not begin at an institution as a part-time enrollee or those who transfer from community colleges or other institutions.

HBCU advocates have long requested for a uniform system of data analysis on graduation and retention rates. In 2016, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges’ President Belle Wheelen wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the role of consistent data reporting in the accreditation process, and in limiting potential government overreach in this process.

“…But the department still has not taken on key issues. For example, how should colleges account for students who complete a credential elsewhere? This requires access to individual student data, like those collected by the nonprofit National Student Clearinghouse (on whose board one of us serves).

Today’s students are young and not so young, attending part time, stepping in and out, and transferring in state and out of state. The clearinghouse provides a more complete demographic picture, one that shows the complications of reducing student behaviors to a simple graduation rate.”

Graduation rates are one element of federal reporting inconsistencies, but national agencies and institutions themselves may also miss opportunities to bolster metrics associated with funding requests and appropriations. HBCUs received $1.2 billion in non-student loan revenue in 2013, with $80 million in federal appropriations going to HBCU-based programs in health sciences, $113 million to agriculture and cooperative extension, and $36 million distributed to through the Department of Defense’s Minority Institutions Program.

But save for a 2014 report from the National Institutes of Health which outlined disparities in grant awards to researchers at the same HBCUs which led the nation in producing eventual black PhD earners, neither the federal government nor individual black colleges produces annual data on degrees earned in high-demand fields, economic impact created by students and graduates, or the individual impact of HBCUs on regional or national labor trends.

This lack of reporting was noted in a letter from the bi-partisan HBCU Caucus in 2016, which requested that Congress commission a study on the issues.

“Specifically, we would like this study to examine economic factors such as student outcomes, academic research, employee salaries, institution spending, student spending, and the multiplier effect of these factors. Finally this study should explore the ability of HBCUs to graduate low-income students and the impact that an HBCU degree has on achieving positive upward mobility for its graduates.”

To date, it is not clear if congressional committees or any institutions have contributed individual impact studies for review by the caucus, or the public.

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