Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) have recently come under attack for low retention rates. Recent studies indicate that six-year graduation rates at HBCUs have lowered within the last couple of years, while Predominantly White Institutions (PWI)  continue to rise.

According to Collegefactual.com, statistics show that approximately four out of five freshman students who attend HBCUs do not earn a degree within six years. Only a handful of these schools have 50 percent or more of their freshman class graduate. Nationally, Atlanta’s Spelman College has the highest graduation rate with 76 percent of its graduates earning degrees in six years or less.

Other HBCUs reported have very low six-year graduation rates, some in single digits. However, within the last two years, a lot of them have been able to turn the tide toward a more favorable outcome, raising their rates close to the 50 percent mark.

Spelman’s fellow Atlanta University Center (AUC) sister schools, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, have considerably low six-year retention rates compared to the mostly female private HBCU. While Morehouse is able to pull 51 percent of its students toward graduation, Clark Atlanta comes in lower than both schools at 38 percent.

Notable HBCUs including Alabama A&M University (31 percent), Florida A&M University (39 percent), Jackson State University (40 percent), North Carolina A&T University (44 percent), and Tennessee State University (41 percent), join Clark Atlanta with less than 50 percent of their students graduating with six-years.

“I think that some of the causes are financial, some students aren’t able to afford to go to college or continue to go to college so they have to go back home,” said Will Fuller, a graduating senior at Howard University. He expressed his concern that several of his classmates will not be graduating with him this spring.  Originally a student at Clark Atlanta, Fuller transferred to Howard after one year since his  scholarship enables him to attend any HBCU.

By contrast, PWI’s have consistently higher graduation rates than HBCU’s, most above 50 percent. Schools surveyed include University of Alabama (67 percent), University of Florida (86 percent), University of Mississippi (61 percent), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (90 percent), and University of Georgia (85 percent).

Low graduation rates among HBCU students, has historically been tied to the economic struggles of  low-income households. Traditionally, a college education has always been a less likely option for students who don’t have the financial means. Low-income students often rely on federal and private forms of financial aid to compensate for their inability to fund their own education.

However, financial aid doesn’t guarantee that a student will be able to afford to complete their college education. In many cases, scholarships don’t provide enough money to cover the full cost of tuition, room and board, textbooks and living expenses.

At present, the median income for African American households is approximately $39,000, which is less than Latinos ($47,000) and Whites (over $65,000). Statistics also show that African Americans are less likely to own houses and have health insurance.

As long as graduation rates are directly connected to household income, the disparity between HBCU and PWI graduation rates seem unlikely to change any time soon.


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