President Trump confused and angered advocates for historically black colleges Friday when he suggested that a key aid program for the institutions could be unconstitutional. But, amid criticism, Trump aides reached out to black-college supporters and said his Friday comment didn’t mean he was going to change anything.
The chancellor of the Georgia higher education system announced Friday afternoon that he plans to seek the merger of Albany State University, a historically black institution, with Darton State College, whose enrollment is about half white. Georgia’s higher education system has been pursuing mergers in recent years, but the state has not to date proposed mergers involving historically black colleges. In other states in the past, such proposals have been controversial. Many advocates for historically black colleges believe such mergers erode these institutions’ historic commitment to educating black students, many of them from low-income areas.
At Albany State, 90 percent of students are black. Albany State last month announced budget cuts, including the "deactivation" of undergraduate majors being eliminated: English, history, speech and theater, music, music education, and science education.
The Georgia plan, which must be approved by the Board of Regents, would keep the Albany State name for the combined institution.
Hank Huckaby, the chancellor, said in a statement, “We recognize this is a historic milestone for Albany State. We are committed to continuing to serve the HBCU mission and building upon the mission to serve an increasingly diverse student population and community. We also recognize the key role Darton has played in meeting the access mission and offering workforce-related associate degrees. We will maintain both missions under the consolidated institution and believe this strengthens public higher education in Southwest Georgia.”
Black graduates of historically black colleges and universities are significantly more likely to have felt supported while in college and to be thriving afterwards than are their black peers who graduated from predominantly white institutions, according to the newest data from an ongoing Gallup-Purdue University study.
The survey — which is the largest of its kind and has now collected data from 50,000 college alumni over two years — attempts to measure whether colleges are doing enough to help students’ well-being in life after they graduate. It measures five “elements of well-being,” described as social, financial, purpose, community and physical elements. The survey also asks graduates if they remember having had a professor who cared about them, made them excited to learn or encouraged them to follow their dreams — which Gallup refers to collectively as being “emotionally supported” while in college.
Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education and Workforce Development, said that while HBCUs continue to lag other colleges and universities in many other areas, the data in the newest Gallup-Purdue report should come as “positive news” for the struggling institutions.
“There are still noticeable challenges around completion rates and loan default rates, and this data doesn’t change that,” Busteed said. “But this data does add a whole new dimension to the conversation about the value of HBCUs. Black students are having very meaningful experiences at HBCUs, compared to black graduates from everywhere else.”
About 55 percent of black HBCU graduates said they “strongly agreed” that their college or university “prepared them well for life outside of college,” compared to less than 30 percent of non-HBCU black graduates. More than half of HBCU graduates reported “thriving in purpose well-being,” compared to 43 percent of black graduates from non-HBCUs.
While 29 percent of black graduates who did not attend an HBCU said they were “thriving in financial well-being,” 51 percent of black HBCU graduates reported doing so. Black graduates of HBCUs were more than twice as likely as those who graduated from predominantly white institutions to recall feeling supported by a professor.
According to an earlier report based on the Gallup-Purdue study, if graduates recalled “supportive relationships with professors and mentors,” they were twice as likely to say their education was worth the price.
Nearly 50 percent of all college graduates who accumulated $25,000 or more in student debt said they strongly agreed that college was worth it if they had those kinds of relationships, the survey found. For recent graduates with high debt who could not recall having a supportive relationship with a professor or staff member, only 25 percent strongly agreed.
About half of black HBCU graduates said their college or university was “the perfect school” for them, compared to 34 percent of non-HBCU black alumni. Nearly half said they couldn’t “imagine a world” without the HBCU they attended. Only 25 percent of black graduates of predominantly white institutions agreed.
The report, which was prepared by nonprofit student loan guarantor USA Funds, included responses from alumni who graduated between 1940 and 2011. Gallup said the sample size was not large enough to examine differences between recent graduates and all respondents.
“Although HBCUs are struggling in a number of areas, their overall success in providing black graduates with a better college experience than they would get at non-HBCUs needs to be examined more closely, and potentially modeled, at other institutions,” the researchers wrote. “The profoundly different experiences that black graduates of HBCUs and black graduates of non-HBCUs are having in college leave the HBCU graduates feeling better prepared for life after graduation, potentially leading them to live vastly different lives outside of college.”
When the researchers turned their attention to other minority groups and types of institutions, the gaps were not nearly as striking.
When asked if their professors cared about them as a person, 28 percent of Hispanic students who attended a Hispanic-serving institution — as defined by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities — said they agreed with the statement. That’s the same percentage of Hispanic students who attended any other kind of institution who reported having a professor who cared.
The percentages related to other categories of well-being were similarly comparable.
Busteed said the researchers can’t say for sure why Hispanic students don’t thrive emotionally at Hispanic-serving institutions in the way black students do at HBCUs, but one “strong hypothesis” lies in the different ways the institutions are categorized. While HBCUs are typically defined by having an institutional mission completely devoted to serving black students, Hispanic-serving institutions are defined as colleges or universities in which Hispanic students make up 25 percent of the total enrollment.
“HBCUs are designated as such because there’s a distinction around their intuitional mission and purpose,” Busteed said. “But with Hispanic-serving institutions, they’re defined by enrollment numbers, not mission.”