Black Public Scholars

March 30, 2011

Why Do HBCU Grads Earn Less Money Than Their Counterparts at White Universities?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Staff @ 12:36 pm

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

A 2007 study by Roland Fryer and Michael Greenstone has found that graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) suffer a wage penalty relative to their counterparts who attend Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). The authors conclude that in comparison to black students who attend PWIs, graduates of HBCUs earn 20% less on the job market than their counterparts.

Equally interesting is that out of the 20 universities with the highest black graduation rates, only one of them (Howard) is an HBCU. Some wonder if this result, as well as the wage differential, cuts into the perceived value of an HBCU education.

According to the Fryer and Greenstone study, HBCU grads report having less confidence in their leadership skills than their black non-HBCU counterparts, less ability to interact with other races, and a higher likelihood of not choosing the same university again. At the same time, HBCU grads are more likely to engage in social, political and philanthropic activities than black students at PWIs.

There are several potential explanations for this disturbing disparity in outcomes for our kids. As a parent of a child who is considering attending an HBCU, I found myself quite curious about the results of this study. They came to my attention after being contacted to do a radio interview interpreting the results.

One possible reason for the wage disparity is good old fashioned racism. The same way that having a black name has been proven to lead to fewer job opportunities, it is not inconceivable that attending an HBCU can result in a penalty from corporations (run mostly by white folks) when they consider these students for positions. I recall starting graduate school at Indiana University years ago and having to explain to one of the professors why Spelman College is a better school than Indiana State. What this man didn’t realize is that Spelman is better than nearly every Ivy League University in the nation.

We must also confess to the possibility that our HBCUs are not being run nearly as efficiently as they could be. During a visit to The University of North Carolina Central and Howard University, I was shocked at how reluctant many HBCUs are to hire African American male faculty, particularly in business and the sciences. According to a survey among readers of, over 40% of HBCU grads had less than five African American professors in fields outside of African American studies. Many HBCUs are flush with foreign professors, some of whom either don’t care much about the black kids and/or collude to only hire faculty from their home countries. This leaves our children without a sufficient number of classroom role models as they navigate their way to graduation.

There are also many stories about HBCU inefficiency as it pertains to financial aid, admissions and even hiring. Many of these problems can be traced to inadequate funding, but some should be connected to the archaic and dysfunctional manner by which some of us choose to lead our institutions. The old school models of leadership for HBCUs should be forced out by those who care about our children’s futures.

There are also other factors that must be considered. Given that PWIs have more resources, they are also able to extract many of the best black students that HBCUs can’t afford to recruit. The same thing happens in sports, where white universities like Kentucky and Kansas recruit the best black basketball players. Also, many HBCUs are more likely to have first-generation college students. The authors claim that they controlled for many of these factors, but as a statistician I can tell you that most statistical controls are incomplete.

The shining light behind these sad and confusing results is that HBCU students are more likely to be engaged in socio-political activities that lead to the change that our community needs. The fact that HBCU grads are more willing to become involved in various forms of activism should not be overlooked as a significant benefit to the African American community. Rather than simply defining success by the size of their paychecks, these students are being taught to bring their expertise back to their people. That’s better than anything a corporate job can offer.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.



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    Pingback by Why Do HBCU Grads Earn Less Money Than Their Counterparts at White Universities? « Black Celebrity Gossip for Black America — March 30, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  2. Is it a lack of proper advertising by the HBCU community? When I was looking at colleges to attend I admit HBCU’s were not on my list. That is possibly due to a lack of knowledge by high school counsellors and the community at large. There was NO ONE in my circle or my parents circle that had any knowledge of HBCU’s. Twenty years later, I am considering Hampton U. for my graduate studies. Why? Primarily due to the fact that no one understands the challenges of gaining an education, the perils in the business community, and the unique problems we have BEING BLACK IN AMERICA than an HBCU. As always, Dr. Watkins an excellent article.

    Comment by The Soul Brother — March 30, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  3. […] Click to read. Posted by blacknews2 Filed in Uncategorized Tagged: black college students, hbcu, historically black colleges and universities Leave a Comment » LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

    Pingback by HBCU Grads Earn Less than Black Kids at White Universities « Black News for black people — March 30, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  4. […] Click to read. Uncategorized   black college students, hbcu, historically black colleges and universities      YBW News Poll: 27% of Blacks Lose Faith in Obama Over Libyan Attack » […]

    Pingback by HBCU Grads Earn Less than Black Kids at White Universities « — March 30, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  5. “HBCU grads report having less confidence in their leadership skills than their black non-HBCU counterparts, less ability to interact with other races, and a higher likelihood of not choosing the same university again. ” <–This right here supports the thesis and is reason enough for the lower wages.

    CONFIDENCE, NETWORKING ABILITY AND a STRONG NETWORK play a huge role in negotiating salaries.

    Comment by perspicere — March 30, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

  6. […] Click to read. Uncategorizedblack college students, hbcu, historically black colleges and universities ← Dr. Boyce Watkins and Rev. Al Sharpton Discuss the Images of Black Men in America Leave a comment0 Comments. […]

    Pingback by HBCU Grads Earn Less than Black Kids at White Universities | — March 30, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

  7. I went to an HBCU and I felt that the education was ok. I did not really learn anything and it did not challenge me enough. I admit that the white schools look better on paper and they have more oppurtunties than HBCU. At HBCU’s it’s about who you know more. Just my opinion but very good article.

    Comment by Kita — March 30, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

  8. First, there is actual value in an HBCU education, not just perceived. There is no other place on earth where an African-American can go and feel the power of privilege (think white privilege, but for us). An HBCU education is more than what you learn in class. Second, I can’t imagine anyone standing in those financial aid lines, battling challenging teachers, and contending with lost grades or extreme administration policies and having less confidence in their leadership skills. Any graduate of an HBCU should feel as if he or she can rule the world and deserve to do so. Third, HBCU may have few black professors, because there are few who are willing to work at an HBCU for less money and more restrictions than work at a PWI. Finally, I went to an HBCU and not only would I go again, my children and my money will go there as well.

    Comment by Steelerpink — March 30, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

  9. I attended an HBCU and have taught at two. In the fall, my sons will begin their college studies at yet another. I love and support HBCUs, always have and always will. Two things: first, we (black folk as well as others) underestimate the overall influence that schools never designed to reflect our culture have on self-esteem. We send our children to integrated schools somehow with the notion that just rubbing elbows with others is going to translate into success and, in turn, happiness. We should not make the mistake of equating higher pay with greater happiness or overall satisfaction. After undergrad, I attended one of the finest PWIs in the nation and I received a world-class education there, but that institution is not the one that nurtured most deeply my soul; it is not the place where my spirit was most richly fed. Second, I am pleased and proud to say that my HBCU is a family, and my inner circle of friends who graduated from there with me all have wonderful success stories that rival those of friends who did not attend an HBCU. When we left college, we were ready to take on the world. Many of our acquaintances who had attended other schools were burnt out and stressed out. I think it’s important for us to ask ourselves why HBCUs are at this time receiving so much attention, most of it negative. As far as I can see, the writing really is on the wall. If African Americans want a mechanical, systematic education for their children rather than a holistic experience, we are going to continue not to consider HBCUs for our children, and, sadly, these instituions, already under attack, are going to start disappearing in the next ten to twenty years.

    Comment by AMcLeod — March 31, 2011 @ 4:37 pm

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