Higher Status Jobs But Lower Pay for African-Americans Graduating From HBCUs

Posted By Monica Harvin on January 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm
Higher Status Jobs But Lower Pay for African-Americans Graduating From HBCUs

Approximately 26 percent of all college students in the U.S. study in Minority Serving Institutions, including large shares of the nation’s first-generation, low-income and students of color. New research on the effectiveness, or Return on Investment, of these institutions shows MSIs having significant positive returns for students.

But, large challenges still remain for the graduates of MSIs and particular those of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), where 11 percent of black college students study. Research presented at the National Minority Serving Institutions Return on Investment Convening shows African Americans who graduate from HBCUs getting higher status jobs but lower pay, compared to their black counterparts who attend non-HBCUs.

The focus of income and wage disparities is usually centered on differences between racial/ethnic groups. However, this finding by Dr. Terrell L. Strayhorn of The Ohio State University points to an additional layer of complexity and challenge for African Americans to earn the same as other graduates in their areas of study.

Positive returns for Historically Black College and University graduates

Black graduates of HBCUs outperform their same-race counterparts at non-HBCUs across several career and personal development areas – findings that have held true across multiple studies conducted by Strayhorn. These areas include:

  • Entering higher status occupations, even when controlling for institutional selectivity
  • Sense of black identity
  • Non-monetary gains from being socialized into higher status occupations and learning in environments that affirm racial/ethnic identity

Minority Serving Institutions do a better job at fostering the sense that individuals can bring their whole selves to the university, Gasman explains in an earlier GoodCall article. Unlike at many predominantly white institutions, black students and faculty do not have to check their ‘blackness’ at the door. Learning in environments of acceptance and tolerance like these may explain Strayhorn’s findings, where HBCU graduates expressed greater senses of identity and non-monetary gains, positively contributing to advancing their careers and personal growth.

“Understanding the complex and unique return on investment for MSIs is essential as these institutions serve the new majority in higher education. There is much that we can all learn from their impact and approaches to student learning and community uplift,” says Marybeth Gasman, director of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, in a press release.

Why are black HBCU graduates making less than other black graduates?

Strayhorn’s research, however, also found wage disparities between black graduates of HBCUs and those of non-HBCUs, where black graduates of HBCUs earn lower salaries compared to their black counterparts who graduate from non-HBCUs.

The finding held true even for African-American students from highly selective HBCUs, generally earning less than same-race graduates of comparable non-HBCU schools. What’s more, black graduates of highly selective historically black schools are earning about the same as African-Americans who graduated from less selective, predominantly white schools.

This pulls into question the role that institutional prestige and selectivity truly have upon future earnings for black graduates. Strayhorn’s paper explains, “It may be the case that employers and supervisors give more attention to race, age, gender, marital status, and major than the quality of one’s undergraduate institution…[or] employers may be unaware of institutional quality and therefore salary decisions are made without reference to this factor.”

Addressing wage disparities across black graduates

In his paper, he argues that these overall results “may provide evidence of employers’ [biased] preferences for non-HBCU graduates rather than an actual negative ‘effect’ that HBCUs confer upon their students.”  He urges caution when interpreting lower salary findings for graduates of HBCUs, and writes, “Rather than blaming historically Black institutions, I encourage readers and policymakers to focus on factors over which we have some programmatic and policy control such as employer’s biases, degree offerings, financial investments in HBCUs, and Black students’ ability to negotiate competitive salaries.”

Recent initiatives to provide funding to a number of Historically Black Colleges and Universities to improve their STEM programs and increase the number of STEM graduates may serve to increase the wages of black graduates from these schools by preparing them for high-demand careers. However, in order to be effective at closing wage gaps, the job preparation elements of these programs will need to address the reasons underlying wage disparities, not only between African-Americans and other racial/ethnic groups, but also between HBCU graduates and black graduates from traditional, predominantly white institutions.

Measuring value at Minority Serving Institutions

“As MSIs continue their ascendance and even expand their share of enrolled postsecondary students, they will also be expected to produce increasing amounts of high-quality data and information on institutional effectiveness,” says Dr. Michael T. Nettles, senior vice president of the Policy Evaluation and Research Center at ETS, in a Penn Center for MSIs press release.

One of the reasons MSIs attract some of the most diverse student bodies and faculties, though, is that they don’t rely on traditional measures of quality, combining a range of measures that better reflect the diversity of the nation, Gasman describes in an earlier interview with GoodCall. Improvements to research and academic programs at these institutions, for example, will necessarily have to take into account the strengths and inherent differences of MSIs in thinking about how they evaluate themselves while still continuing to improve student returns on investment (ROI).

The Penn Center for MSIs expects to release in March a national report on ROI at Minority Serving Institutions, continuing the discussion on the role of MSIs in higher education, positive returns on investments and improving student outcomes.

Monica Harvin
Monica is a GoodCall contributing editor, covering personal finance and education. She's also GoodCall's diversity expert, with a master's degree in Latin American studies from UCLA and bachelor's degree in history from the University of Florida.

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