This Black History Month, the White House will recognize faculty and staff members at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that drive the college completion agenda. These leaders work with students, families, higher education leaders, and policymakers to build paths to graduation.
To reach President Obama’s goal of helping our nation lead the world in college completion by 2020, we must ensure that more African American students graduate from college. Currently, the college graduation rate for African American students is 34.3 percent, compared to 47.1 percent for Asian students, 46.2 percent for white students, and 41.05 percent for Hispanic students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015).
HBCUs meet the challenge. Innovative strategies and visionary leadership can advance college completion among African American students. For more than a century, HBCUs have been exemplars in producing African American college graduates who lead their fields. A recent report from the National Science Foundation revealed that 21 of the top 50 institutions for producing African American graduates who go on to receive their doctorates in Science and Engineering (S&E) are HBCUs. In total, between 2002 and 2011 among the top 50 institutions, HBCUs collectively produced 1,819 African American graduates who earned a doctorate in S&E, predominately white institutions produced 1,600, and foreign institutions produced 798.
HBCUs also successfully educate students who are from low-income homes and who have less than optimal academic preparation. On average, 72.8 percent of the total HBCU enrollment is Pell eligible. In addition, the Department of Education's second "Civil Rights Data Collection" report suggests that high schools with largely African American student populations, which serve as a pipeline to HBCUs, routinely offer a less rigorous curriculum, omitting classes required for college admission.
HBCUs are exemplars for creating robust opportunities for students who benefit from experienced mentors that help them navigate through courses, financial challenges, and struggle with personal difficulties. At the same time, HBCUs cultivate a rich learning environment and build initiatives to that promote post-baccalaureate success.
The HBCU Champions of Change follows the December 4, 2014 College Opportunity Day of Action in Washington, D.C., whereby President Obama, Vice President Biden, and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted an event that focused on building networks of colleges around promoting completion and increasing the number of college graduates in STEM fields.
We look forward to hosting and recognizing HBCU Champions of Change who are vital to the long-range standing of our nation.
Heather Foster is Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement.