Several historically black colleges and universities are claiming new spots on the controversial list of the nation’s best institutions as ranked by the US News and World Report.
The annual list, which humbles Ivy League schools, frustrates significant research PWIs and boxes out most HBCUs from a reasonable measurement of their missions and value to higher education, made headlines recently for adding a metric of social mobility to their formula of indexing college performance.
Now, a school which has some commitment to educating the poor has a chance for that effort to be reflected in the countdown of the most well-resourced and admissions-exclusive schools in the country.
The list, while borderline racist and recently denounced by an HBCU chancellor, does give schools a chance to share the best parts of their efforts to boost educational attainment and its outcomes. And many HBCUs have shared great headlines.
At Howard University, the 89th ranked school in the nation and up 21 spots from the previous year, officials promoted their efforts to boost retention, limit post-graduate debt burden and default rates, and time-to-completion goals.
Under Dr. Frederick’s tenure as president, several new programs were implemented to increase student’s ability to stay on track to graduation. In Fall 2014, only 60 percent of freshmen were taking enough credits to be considered sophomores (after a year in school). Now, the number has increased to 85.5 percent. Among those who aren’t taking 15 credits, more than 70 percent of those students already have transfer and/or AP credit, further increasing the number of students on track to reach an on-time graduation.
Students are encouraged to graduate early and on time with tuition rebate programs for those meeting the timely milestone. Students also have the opportunity to attend summer school tuition-free if they meet certain criteria. Additional supports include improvements in technology to enhance students’ ability to stay on track to graduation and the installation of an Office of Undergraduate Studies, primarily focused on advising, providing tutoring services and enhancing the student academic experience. The launch of the Bison STEM Scholars program is designed to recruit high achieving scholars and ultimately prepare them on a path to secure a PhD or MD/PhD. These efforts, focused on academic success and the student experience, have led to increased student retention and graduation rates.
Kentucky State University is now the 12-ranked public HBCU in the nation according to the listings, and officials attribute its success to improving resources for faculty, strategic enrollment planning, and workforce development pairing in academic programs.
“Kentucky State University is committed to providing exceptional workforce-ready postsecondary educational opportunities for the Commonwealth and the region,” Kentucky State University President M. Christopher Brown II said. “We are in the middle of campus-wide transitions in several core areas that will continue to yield benefits for the University and the Commonwealth.”
Spelman College took this year’s title as the top HBCU, leading a pack of private institutions in the top ten with North Carolina A&T State University, Florida A&M University, North Carolina Central University and Delaware State University as the sole public institutions in the top percentile.
All of these schools benefit from a slightly more contextual interpretation of US News’ historic ranking formula, with less weight given to six-year graduation rates and more importance given to Pell grant graduates.
But what is overshadowed in a list like this is the legitimate work each of these campuses puts in not just to make an arbitrary list of schools which favors uber-rich elite private schools; it is the work of developing programs, retaining faculty, expanding research and generating economic impact for students and communities alike.
Howard is ranked for metrics, but those who never look for Howard’s value outside of the rankings cannot see the university as an anchor of culture and training for the entire African Diaspora. It doesn’t reflect Howard opening a new healthcare center in an economically underserved section of Washington DC, or that the university yields more applications to medical school from African Americans than any other campus in the country.
People can’t see that KSU in two years has looked to launch on-campus research centers examining the intersections of race and education, and educational attainment, in America’s heartland. The most recent, the Center for Research on the Eradication of Educational Disparities (CREED) will give the HBCU community additional clout to present as a sector of expertise on how the nation’s poor remain underserved, and how governance and economics can converge to reverse the trends.
The list doesn’t detail Spelman as a top producer of black women earning internships and career training in foreign affairs, North Carolina A&T as the nation’s largest historically black institution with more than $64 million in sponsored research conducted by a mostly minority faculty body, or NCCU researchers developing patents for cardiovascular disease tests, or FAMU launching an international conference to discuss the global water access crisis.
This is the work of improving and saving lives which all colleges do, but for which HBCUs never receive credit because their work is done primarily by and for people of color. And when our best work is ignored, and the rare occasion when it can be acknowledged is glossed over in favor of biased statistical analysis, it underscores the systems and cultures which make HBCUs less than desirable destinations for donors, for corporate partnerships, and most of all, for the nation’s talented black students and faculty.
Rankings are good but institutional results are better. Thank God HBCUs specialize in achieving the latter, even when the world around us is misled to believe institutional success is best reflected in the context-deprived former.